Neighbors Helping Neighbors

   By Monica V.

Since no one can predict when an emergency will happen, being prepared for a wide range of events can make all the difference. To help reservations build capacity in disaster response, the Northern Plains Reservation Aid® (NPRA) program of Partnership With Native Americans® (PWNA) facilitates emergency preparedness training in remote Tribal communities.

Recently, we organized a multi-day training on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to build a local group of first responders. Instructor Jesse led a group of seven people who became certified as a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

Help from off the reservation is often slow to come. With few hospitals and limited local resources, CERT teams are often the first on the scene of disasters. Jesse noted that during a recent active shooter drill for the Tribe, the response time was more than 40 minutes. She shared, “I’d like to push CERT as training because we need to take care of ourselves and our families first. Traditionally, we didn’t rely on anyone else. Being able to take care of our communities is what makes us a resilient Lakota nation.”

During the training, Jesse explained that the goal moving forward was to “do the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time.” The group learned lifesaving techniques, such as first aid, search and rescue, and fire suppression.

This was participant Sienna’s first time using a fire extinguisher, and it was easier than she thought. She explained that she hadn’t experienced many fire drills, saying, “I think people just think that it’s the rez and nothing happens.”

Participant Guss, was grateful for the opportunity to learn lifesaving techniques and shared, “There are not many organizations out there that can help with training. The more skills we have, the better we can serve. I learned quite a bit, especially with fire response — different tactics to be aware of, different types of fires, and how to keep yourself safe.” Guss looks forward to passing on his newfound skills to local youth.

Another participant, Jasey, took the training because she “thought it would be helpful for my peers and my friends. Honestly, I learned a lot, like being cautious. You can’t be a hero – you have to care for yourself too, even though I usually put others first.” During training, Jasey learned to leverage a heavy object off a person and stay calm while working under pressure. She noted that this knowledge would’ve helped when a heavy board trapped her little sister’s leg. Jasey shared, “I was scared something was going to happen to her, like losing circulation.”

Jasey implores NPRA donors to fund more emergency response training on reservations. She told us, “We should make it a requirement for the workplace. I feel like everybody should know it and have drills. The Midwest has all weather types in all seasons and should be prepared for all types of disasters.”

In addition to being an educator, Jesse works for the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s emergency management department and shared that there is no official search and rescue team on the reservation because there isn’t enough funding to train people.

Jon, deputy director of the Tribe’s emergency management department, uses his own two dogs in search and rescue operations, and he brought them for training to demonstrate. Morgan, the bloodhound, tracks human scents. Lila, the golden retriever, can find 100-year-old bones buried six feet in the ground. Jon hopes that one day, every reservation will have at least one search and rescue K9.

CERT training and other emergency preparedness measures supported by NPRA are crucial for small Tribal communities to build capacity and take care of one another. You can help by donating to NPRA today.