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Hypothermia and Frostbite

Hypothermia and FrostbiteIt’s January here in South Dakota and the temperatures aren’t bad recently, about 30 degrees—but it can get below zero very quickly this time of year. The wind and the air temperature can plummet, especially at night, and make it difficult to stay warm… especially if you rely on propane for heating, or wood for heating.

Many of us simply can turn up the heat via a digital dial on the wall and voila – the room temperature climbs until it reaches 75 degrees. Things aren’t always that simple on the reservations around the country. For some, staying warm in the winter is a challenge as costs and the lack of winter fuel such as firewood can make warmth arduous to obtain.

I have visited Elders on the reservation in winter, and I can recall one visit in particular where it was downright freezing inside of the home. The Elder was waiting for a propane delivery. In addition, many of the reservations we serve are very rural and remote. There isn’t an urban infrastructure that makes it easy to have the types of heating many of us enjoy.

Hypothermia & Frostbite - CINFor too many, in my opinion, winter on the reservation can be a cold harsh experience. I can remember as a young boy visiting my grandmother on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the wind could get just horrible and gusty and so very cold. You find ways to stay warm – like putting up blankets and plastic over the windows – but it can still get cold… especially when you are waiting for winter fuel.

This very real danger of hypothermia among people on the reservation when propane and wood are in short supply brings me to another point: What is hypothermia, and how is it different from frostbite?

Well, the Mayo Clinic states that hypothermia is “a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature passes below 95 F (35 C).”

Severe hypothermia can lead to frostbite, which freezes parts of the body when they are exposed to extremely cold temperatures. In so many of the isolated reservation communities National Relief Charities serves, the temperature can be well below freezing many days throughout the winter and frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes.

Hypothermia & Frostbite - SNRF-Fuel-After the Blizzard 5-Martha Afraid of HawkWhen coupled with the poverty that exists on these reservations, this makes for a perfect storm. Poverty, lack of local heating sources and sub-freezing temps can lead to potentially life threatening consequences. This is why NRC goes to such lengths to ensure winter safety for Elders on reservations, providing:

  • Firewood and winter fuel vouchers for hundreds of Elders on Northern Plains and Southwest reservations
  • Winter emergency boxes with food, water, flashlights, batteries, scarves, hats, gloves, and winter emergency blankets to get Elders through winter storms
  • Weatherization of Elders’ homes by caulking and putting up plastic around doors and windows to keep out the cold and keep in the precious heat
  • Emergency relief when blizzards and other winter weather create risk for Elders

We recommend keeping a close watch on Elders in your community and ensuring their wood, coal or propane does not run low during the winter. And check out these other tips for spotting the signs of frostbite.

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Native Youth Know How to Improve Public Health & Safety

Native Youth Know - Az Commission logoToday at Arizona’s Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day, five talented and energized youth groups are presenting how they are going to make their communities safer and healthier. With the “Native Youth Know” partnership standing behind them, the five youth groups will receive the funding and support to make that possible.

The Native Youth Know partnership between the Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs, the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona and National Relief Charities is engaging youth-led groups to develop creative solutions around issues of public safety, health and well-being. From the youth of today develop the leaders of tomorrow.

NRC-logo-for-TwitterToday, we would like to acknowledge and congratulate the five recipients of the “Native Youth Know” grants and the solutions they identified for tribal communities throughout Arizona:

  1. Based on the Hopi Reservation, the Hopi Junior and Senior High School student government will develop a park and recreation area to serve the youth and adults living in the school’s housing complex. By enhancing this area, the student government will increase access to places where people of all ages can become more active and improve health and wellness.
  1. The Native American Music Fund from the Fort Defiance and Window Rock communities on the Navajo Reservation has a track record for promoting music and raising funds for guitars and pianos, which were given to Navajo youth. Using the Native Youth Know grant, they will host three Teens for Music workshops in three Navajo communities, including music lessons and performances from local and known musicians.
  1. Elsewhere on the Navajo Nation, the fifth and sixth grade classes at the Little Singer Community School are resolved to revitalize and enhance the school’s efforts toward nutritional values. They will promote nutritional, environmental and cultural well-being through renovation of a school greenhouse and development of a sustainable garden.
  1. On the Pascua Yaqui Reservation in Guadalupe, middle and high school students in the Lutu’uria Youth Group are collaborating with college students from the Yonokame Group to address issues rooted in historical trauma and loss of culture. They will address the issues through teachings of Yaqui history.
  1. The Miss Pascua Yaqui Program in Tucson is committed to educating youth and the community about their ancestral diet as well as edible plants and fruits harvested from the environment. They will organize teaching by Elders and develop a community garden to grow the plants and trees essential to the Yaqui ancestral diet.

We congratulate these Native American youth for taking a leadership role and contributing in creative and positive ways to the safety, health and well-being in tribal communities.

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The Controversy over Keystone XL Pipeline

There is still much talk about the Keystone XL Pipeline and the controversy surrounding the construction of this transcontinental oil behemoth. Some argue for its construction as they say it will create pipeline jobs and boost local economies from Canada to Mexico, while others say no price tag can cover the harmful emissions and catastrophic effect the pipeline will have on the environment.  Then many Native Americans feel that besides an environmental risk, the Keystone XL Pipeline is in direct violation of treaties.

On February 19, 2014, a Nebraska district judge struck down a law that allowed the Keystone XL pipeline to proceed through Nebraska, saying it violated the state constitution. However, on Friday, January 9, 2015, the Nebraska Supreme court reversed the lower court ruling, clearing the way to begin pipeline construction.

A pending decision by Congress and their moves with this project may yet delay construction of the pipeline. The 114th Congress of the United States is still weighing their options on how to proceed, and we will all soon learn how this will play out at a national level.

In the meantime, we should all be aware of how the Keystone XL Pipeline will affect Native Americans. Beyond the environmental issues, and the politics, and the prediction of creating thousands and thousands of jobs, there exists that one remaining detail…. that tribes and the treaties the U.S. government has made with tribes must be given the lawful respect they deserve. The companies involved and the U.S. government need to consider this with the tribes directly.

Pub. by Tar Sands Blockade,

Pub. by Tar Sands Blockade,

Already, many of the tribes have spoken and expressed major concern about the safety and energy efficiency of this pipeline. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has expressed their opposition to this pipeline, as well as the potential for further damage to the environment and to Native lands, should there be any further ruptures of oil in the future. NCAI asked that the U.S. pursue sustainable energy solutions and look at clean energy alternatives as a way to move forward and reduce dependency on “the world’s dirtiest and most environmentally destructive form of oil – the ‘tar sands.” I feel this is a fair request.

No matter how this plays out, I hope the officials and decision-makers listen to the tribes in both Canada and America and consider what the Keystone XL Pipeline will really do for the citizens of the United States… all of the citizens. This question stands quite apart from that of generating profits for TransCanada, major oil sand producers like Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp and investors including those in the U.S.

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Indian Reservations to Visit in Winter

Have you ever wondered about visiting an Indian reservation or tribal recreation area in the winter? There are many options open, but here are five in the southern and southwestern United States that may surprise you.

  1. Mescalero Apache: Indian Rez to Visit in Winter - skisIf you’re up for cold weather, snow sports may be just the thing. Ski Apache is a premier ski destination in New Mexico operated by the Mescalero and known for its year-round beauty. This recreational paradise turns white in the winter, making skiing and snowboarding the activities of choice, with elevations of 5,400 to 12,000 feet. Its highest peak, Sierra Blanca, is sacred to the Mescalero people. The tribe also operates the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino. The reservation is 720 square miles and home to the Mescalero, the Chiricahua and the Lipan Apache. Read more
  1. White Mountain Apache: The tribe’s Office of Tourism on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation hosts adventurous outdoor recreation, including rafting the Salt River Canyon, camping and hiking in the pristine White Mountains, Apache Trout fishing (species not found elsewhere) and world record elk hunting. In the winter, the fun shifts to skiing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, sleigh rides and ice fishing. The Sunrise Park Resort is a premier ski destination in Arizona and known for its winter and summer activities and year-round beauty. The tribe also operates the luxurious Hon-Dah Resort Casino and Conference Center. Read more
  1. Blackfeet: Indian Rez to Visit in Winter - ice fishingThe Blackfeet Indian reservation is 1.5 million acres in Montana. It borders Alberta, Canada to the north and Glacier National Park to the south, with an easy drive from there to Yellowstone National Park. The tribe operates a recreation area known as Blackfeet Country, with unmatched scenic beauty (and sometimes high winds). The recreation area is a winter and summer playground for snow sports, ice fishing (permits and ice house rentals are nominal), hiking, camping, horseback riding, boating, picnicking, swimming, rodeos, water sports and cultural events. The tribe also operates the Glacier Peaks Casino and Hotel. There is also a nine-hole golf course in nearby East Glacier. Read more
  1. Seminole: Indian Rez to Visit in Winter - rodeo 3If cold weather is not your thing, consider heading south to Florida. The Seminole are hosting a championship rodeo this month, a qualifier for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. The rodeo will be hosted at the Seminole Youth Ranch Arena in Immokalee, FL. The other two rodeos in this 3-part series have been held in Lakeland and Wauchula, FL for years. Top-name contestants and up to 10,000 rodeo fans are expected. Although rodeo is a pro sport, this one has a lot of entertainment and specialty acts, making it different from other rodeo events. The Seminole Tribe is building a new four-story, 110-room hotel at the Seminole Immokalee Casino, which they hope will open in time for the rodeo. Read more
  1. Pascua Yaqui: The Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation is located in metropolitan Tucson. If you’re a golfer, you may want to visit the Sewailo Golf Club, just south of the tribe’s Casino Del Sol Resort. The tribe hired Notah Begay of Navajo and Pueblo descent and PGA fame to “help carve the world from the high Sonoran Desert.” Sewailo means “flower world” in the Pascua Yaqui language. This challenging golf course runs 7,400 yards from the championship tees, with 5 tee boxes on each hole to accommodate players of all ability levels. The resort has earned the Forbes Four-Star Travel Guide Award. Read more

** If you visit one of these areas, please come back and share your experience. If you’re looking for something more mainstream yet culturally-focused, try the National Museum of the American Indian with locations in Washington, DC and New York City that are open year-round.

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Native Americans Giving Back: Jana Mashonee

It’s December 25, 2014. Across the globe families have gathered and gifts have been exchanged in celebration of the Christmas holiday. Resolutions are quickly being made while there is still time. With the end of one year and the beginning of another soon upon us, there is no better way to conclude our Native Americans Giving Back Series than by featuring a one-of-a-kind artist: Jana Mashonee (Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina).

In my mind, Jana is synonymous for this time of year. If you watched our holiday video above, you know what I’m talking about. The song featured in the video is a rendition of “O Holy Night” sung in Navajo, from Jana’s album “American Indian Christmas.”

This NAMMY award-winning album gives listeners ten classic Christmas songs beautifully sung in different Native American languages. Jana generously allowed NRC to use her work in support of our holiday video and giving projects.

In further support of Indian country, Jana established the Jana’s Kids Foundation to support Native American and Aboriginal students through academic, athletic and art scholarships, awarding her first scholarship in 2006. In addition, Jana’s Kids Foundation strives to improve literacy among Native American children through a “Reading for Life Program.” This program provides culturally relevant books and motivational seminars to encourage reading among Native American children.

Giving Back - christmasbells10At only 34 years old, Jana Mashonee has achieved a lot as a performer and philanthropist. She’s been nominated for two GRAMMY awards, received nine NAMMY awards, performed at the American Indian Inaugural Ball for President Obama and sang for Laura Bush at the First Lady’s Luncheon, to name just a few of her contributions. Her humanitarian efforts align with much of what we do at National Relief Charities through our AIEF program.

NRC would like to recognize Jana Mashonee for her support of Native Americans everywhere and to thank her again for supporting our holiday services. Like all the artists and performers featured in this series, Jana is truly a Native American giving back.

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Sharing the Good in 2014

SNRF-CX-Rockyford-Santa-Stop-21-2007We have written recently about NRC’s work with Native communities around the holidays. Now that tens of thousands of Christmas stockings and holiday meals have placed, we are taking a breather to reflect on what has been accomplished and learned in 2014.

We are pleased and humbled that hundreds of partner agencies on reservations asked NRC to work alongside them again this year to improve conditions in their communities. We responded to more than 5,500 requests for assistance from our partner agencies to support important projects related to disease prevention, job training, youth development and public safety, and hundreds of schools were able to provide students with new shoes, clothing and school supplies. In partnership with people who live and work in the reservation communities NRC serves, a good deal has been accomplished this year.

Sharing the Good - RTdRgzqT9Our partners have made important strides in the areas of health promotion and improved access to food. We have had the opportunity to support really smart, community-led efforts in the areas of food security and improved nutrition.

We have been inspired by educators and students who are working hard to raise the educational attainment and future prospects of youth. We are encouraged to see that ALL of the nearly 200 scholarship students NRC funded are on track to complete this semester.

At the end of each year, our team also reflects on important lessons we have learned or that have been reinforced. There are our lessons and reminders from 2014:

  • So much more can be accomplished by working together.
  • The communities we serve have the answers to the challenges they face.
  • Our role is often simply to activate and support ideas community members have to improve lives.

Sharing the Good - buncee_clipart_holiday_100The lesson from Indian country is a resounding one of partnership, strength and resilience.

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Do Native Americans Celebrate Christmas?

Do Natives Celebrate CX - Rosebud SiouxThere often arises the question among non-Native Americans as to whether or not Indians celebrate Christmas. Well, the simple answer is yes, many of us do celebrate Christmas. But, to understand the complete answer, one must look at the question through the lens of history.

For centuries before any European contact, Native Americans held in high regard the winter solstice, which occurs on December 21-22, and they held celebrations around that time of year.

After European contact, many Native American tribes blended Christian beliefs with their traditional cultures and began celebrating a hybrid of Christian and Native beliefs. In fact, about three quarters of the Indian population identifies with a secular faith, the most common being Native American Catholics. So, their celebration of Christmas should not be a surprise.

In addition, the holidays are a time of giving and this is not a foreign concept to Native cultures. All throughout the year, many Native American cultures celebrate special occasions and events with giveaways. Such generosity in Native cultures is a sign of a giving heart, with spiritual as well as social value. So, the concept of holiday giving easily coincides with traditional Native American beliefs.

Do Natives Celebrate CX - Ester Begay & Albert TsosieBoth the Winter Solstice and Christmas are a time to look forward to what is coming in the new year, a time when hope abounds. This is also a time when National Relief Charities is focusing on services for those that perhaps need a little boost of hope and cheer. In addition to providing services such as winter fuel for Elders to heat their homes, staple foods for senior centers and Thanksgiving meals for Elders and their families, each year NRC brightens the holidays for tens of thousands of Native Americans through our Holiday gift and meal programs. Native children, teens, families and Elders alike enjoy the gifts and the opportunity to celebrate the holiday season in the same ways as other Americans.

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Holiday Gifts for Children of the Reservations

If you have been following the National Relief Charities blog for some time now, you may be familiar with some of the topics I have written. Either way, I’d like to briefly reintroduce myself. My name is Andrew Bentley, and I am an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. In June of 2012, I joined NRC as an AmeriCorps VISTA. After my year of service completed with NRC, I went to work for the St. Francis Indian School (SFIS) on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota. This fall, NRC invited me back to be a part of their Long-Term Solutions team.

Holiday and Year-Round Giving - Happy HolidaysWhile leaving the place I called “home” was bittersweet, my return to NRC is something for which I am incredibly grateful. My time at SFIS gave me insight I would otherwise never have had, like seeing the importance that institutions like SFIS and NRC play in the lives of children on rural reservations, especially during the holiday season.

While some may feel it is frivolous for a nonprofit to provide Christmas stockings for thousands of youth, NRC views this quite differently. It isn’t all about the stockings. It is about the experience. It is about the gift of receiving and what that creates for a young person, especially those living on federal Indian reservations.

A little girl from Pojoaque with a big stockingThink for a moment. Put yourself in their shoes. You are a child too young to be so aware of the struggle all around you. After what funding your family receives for the month is gone, things get lean as usual. Mom, Dad, Grandpa and Grandma want to give you the world, but they can’t. The struggle is real, and for you Christmas is just another day off from school.

Bear with me for just another minute and keep imaging yourself as this child. You are at school, the one place where you know you are safe and can depend on having two meals a day. After weeks of anticipation, Santa and his elves have finally arrived with a Christmas stocking for you and the rest of your classmates. Santa visits with you briefly. Teacher takes your picture with Santa. You return to class with stocking in hand and food in your stomach. Today was a good day.

For some children, days like these don’t often come. In fact, there are some children that may not receive anything at all for Christmas. There is a huge value to spreading holiday cheer. It matters not that the stockings are a mix of toys and practical items; the children were remembered.

Pine Ridge youth get a visit from SantaBy partnering with reservation schools, NRC has provided countless youth with a holiday gift of their very own and the opportunity to see the man all kids look forward to seeing every year, Santa. While moments like these may be fleeting for children growing up on some of the poorest reservations, the impact of these moments lasts forever. Simply experiencing the gift of “receiving” boosts a child’s self-esteem and potentially influences the child to become a future giver who remembers others in need.

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Reservation Animal Rescue on #GivingTuesday

Now an annual event, #GivingTuesday is becoming a day of remembrance when millions of people come out to support their favorite charities and causes. And today, we want to shout out to animal lovers everywhere to remember this special cause:  the four-leggeds on the reservations.

GivingTuesday - ROAR logoOur reservation animal rescue program, ROAR, supports rescue, rehabilitation, foster care and adoption for animals of the reservation. We work directly with animal welfare programs, including mobile programs, to promote the well-being of animals in remote reservation communities.

Difficult realities on the reservations create a high need for animal rescue and adoption. The high rates of poverty, unemployment, health issues and food insecurity are similar to those of undeveloped countries. And while the people living in these communities deeply care about the animals, they are often unable to afford animal care and sometimes the care is unavailable in their immediate communities.

Molly when found on the Navajo Reservation

Molly when found on the Navajo Reservation

This is where ROAR comes in, empowering the people who rescue dogs and cats and nurse them back to care. With 1,500 stray dogs roaming the Navajo Reservation and other reservations challenged with animal overpopulation and related public health risk, ROAR is a bright light for animals of the reservations and their caregivers, supporting spay and neuter services, immunizations, shelters, animal welfare education, food and other supplies for about 18,000 dogs and cats a year.

Molly rescued and safe in foster care

Molly rescued and safe in foster care

If you find it in your heart to remember animals of the reservation this #GivingTuesday, your ROAR gift will help pay for food and medical supplies provided by animal rescuers and often paid for out of their own pockets. Each year, we supply about 65,000 pounds of pet food and other supplies and your gift of a foster care kit or kits will help these animals until they are ready for adoption into forever homes – where they belong.

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Social Equity

Kelly mentioned “social equity” in her blog topic on Chaske Spencer and Native Americans Giving Back, and it got me to thinking, just what is social equity?  Well, there are many broad definitions and there are many focused definitions.  And although the definitions vary slightly based on the field of study or the context of topic being discussed, the theme remains the same:

Social equity “implies fair access to livelihood, education, and resources; full participation in the political and cultural life of the community; and self-determination in meeting fundamental needs.”

Social equity - President Obama - Social JusticeSo, how does social equity apply to Native Americans? Well, to begin with, many Native Americans do not have fair access to these things. There is a disparity that extends into Indian country and the results are terrible – without open and fair access to these things, the conditions of poverty are aggravated.  And this is not something that happened recently, or as a result of an inability to try.

I have seen firsthand the courage and determination and steadfast adherence to a plan to “make things better” for a family or community, yet that plan falls short for reasons as simple as lack of resources. This lack can be insufficient funds for a community project such as a garden where hoses, tools and other equipment are needed to raise healthy natural food for a community. Or, it can be loss of hope in the face of incredible and extreme hardship… lack of money for heat in the winter, or food to feed the family, or transportation to get to work or take the kids to Head Start in the morning.

When I think about equity, I don’t think of equality (which is important too), but rather, I think of fairness.   In an attempt to clearly define social equity, it was stated:

“To be clear, ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ are terms that are often used interchangeably, and to a large extent, they have similar meanings. The difference is one of nuance:  while equality can be converted into a mathematical measure in which equal parts are identical in size or number, equity is a more flexible measure allowing for equivalency while not demanding sameness.”

I like this facet of the definition because we are not all the same. We do not have same cultural or religious beliefs, yet we all deserve the fairness that social equity implies. Nobody should be left out of this life. We should all have fair access to food, shelter, education. We should all have open participation in what is happening in our community and the opportunity to meet our own fundamental needs.

But, this is not the case for all of us. Native Americans have been dealing with issues of social inequity  for decades, as we navigated treaties that were unfair and continuously altered to benefit the growing non-Native American population of the United States. This was the case with my tribe and our original homelands.  We were sent to live on a tiny reservation along the Minnesota River, until the U.S. decided to waive their obligations to the 1851 treaty and ultimately kicked the Sisseton and Wahpeton out of Minnesota.

Social Equity - Admit one, admit allMy point is this: The lack of social equity is really everybody’s problem. We are all a part of this complex mess of how to be fair and how to allow all the citizens of the U.S. fair access to everything that they need in life. And I’m not talking about the latest cell phone or a tablet to watch Netflix movies on while they wait for their plane to Florida for vacation. I’m talking about fair access to basic human needs such as food, clean water, education, adequate housing and the ability to forge their own livelihood and contribute to decisions that affect their community. I’m talking about the opportunity to create projects in a community that bring sustainable impact for everyone in that community. I’m talking about the opportunity to learn and to attend college so that communities can have Native American doctors, nurses, electricians, architects, community developers and business people.

Social equity is about ensuring and creating equal access to basic needs and opportunity so that individuals and families can share in a reasonable quality of life.

I remember a little Sisseton Wahpeton boy that was hungry at school because he missed breakfast. And I remember how that little boy was sent to the principal’s office that same morning, where he ate a bowl of cereal and had a small juice, because the teacher and the principal knew the boy was hungry and they simply wanted to help.

Social Equity - Murray Lee - cropped, sized 1That little boy was me…and I will always remember that. And it’s not that I was hungry because my parents didn’t care or because they didn’t love me, but rather, we simply didn’t have the resources or the access to them. We did the best we could, and sometimes that meant falling just a little bit short. Sometimes you just need help from those that are able and willing to reach out.

We can all play a part in ensuring Native Americans have fair access to the things we should all enjoy as citizens of the United States and as human beings. And whether you donate money to make life better for the people that National Relief Charities serves, or you donate material goods and services, or you simply donate your voice to create awareness of the issue, it all helps. Whatever you do makes a difference.

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