By Denis Campbell
As we have seen in the blizzards in Washington and New York 100s of crews of snowploughs and front-end loaders work feverishly to open roads, airports and railway tracks. But, what if you lived in the Cheyenne Sioux Indian Reservation of South Dakota and there were only three snowploughs to clear an area nearly the size of Connecticut?
Most of the reservation is covered with rural 2-lane asphalt and dirt roads that even this meagre snow removal equipment cannot reach because of the drifts. Their only hope is for the temperature to rise above freezing.
If 8,000 telephone poles snapped in Potomac, Westchester, or Greenwich, crews would work 24/7 to restore power. Yet many in the Cheyenne Sioux Reservation have been without power or heat for more than five days. They daily brave temperatures and wind chills of -19◦.
“Many people have died, not only of exposure but of complications from sugar diabetes,” said Russell Means, Chairman of the Lakota Republic. “Diabetes is an epidemic on Indian Reservations,” he continued “and in rural areas of Sioux country the reservations are very isolated.”
We take for granted that the snowploughs will be there to clear our roadways, yet those living on the reservation died because they could not get out of their driveway to transport loved ones to kidney dialysis centres. Heart attacks and exposure claimed even those with cars to transport loved ones, because the snow trapped them in their homes. And forget 911, it does not exist. Nearly everyone is without heat or electricity. Russell Means’ daughter called from her home 200-miles away asking to borrow a generator, but it was stolen.
When asked what the most pressing immediate needs were, his reply was: “come out, come on out, the whole Congress should come and check. We definitely need the funds, The Bureau of Indian Affairs needs the funds, the tribes need the funds just for snow removal and emergency equipment. THAT WOULD SAVE LIVES. Then we need adequate healthcare.”
Generous Americans sent millions to Haiti, New Orleans and Texas when disasters struck sending shockwaves through the media. Yet here is an ongoing, some would say daily, tragedy that affect millions of Americans. They live under the control of a broken federal agency, The Bureau of Indian Affairs, with 85% unemployment, record levels of alcoholism, Type 2 diabetes and unspeakable poverty.
As Keith Olbermann of MSNBC’s Countdown said, “this tragedy is 450 miles from Minneapolis.” Russell Means described it more aptly as “genocide of the Indian people.”
It certainly is, at minimum, gross neglect that entire tribes across massive state-sized territories have people freezing inside their paper thin walled and ill-equipped homes, dying from both exposure and CO2 asphyxiation from bad propane heaters.