Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
Culture Brokers & Disaster Response
long-term hurricane response & the First Peoples Conservation Council
On August 29, 2021, Hurricane Ida made landfall over Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes in coastal Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour and peak gusts as high as 172 mph. Tied for the title of the strongest storm to strike Louisiana, Ida brought catastrophic damage to the Indigenous Nations of the First Peoples Conservation Council -- demolishing homes, uprooting and toppling trees, and leaving the vast majority of families in its path in need of temporary and permanent housing assistance.
It also affected Louisiana’s Coastal Tribes by destroying their collective gathering spaces, important for Tribal governance, rituals, the maintenance of cultural traditions, and the preservation of the French-Choctaw patois dialect (français de la Louisiane) that is unique to these communities and is considered a national treasure. These collective meeting sites are also where Native American residents of these unique Bayou regions come together to develop place-based climate change adaptation strategies that will allow them to continue to live in their ancestral homelands.
Week of Compassion is grateful to partner with the Lowlander Center to support the Indigenous Resilience Disaster Case Management Program (IR-DCMP), which was launched on Sept. 6, 2022, to serve the members of five Tribes hard-hit by Ida in South Louisiana.
The IR-DCMP is an innovative, non-FEMA-funded program focused on training and deploying Indigenous leaders as disaster case managers for their communities. On behalf of the partnership, Week of Compassion was awarded a grant from the UPS Foundation and National VOAD to provide for operational needs like laptops and mileage reimbursement for case managers. In the short time since its establishment, the program has already made significant strides to support the long-term recovery of tribal communities.
The approach represents a transformative shift in disaster case management services, treating case management as a process of community empowerment that lets local people act as agents in their own recovery and teaches them to navigate government programs – retaining knowledge locally that will make them more resilient in the future. The IR-DCMP program is founded on four guiding principles: trust, inclusion, cross-cultural communication, and support for local practices and successes. To achieve improved outcomes, the program employs elders from the Tribes as Culture Brokers because they already have the trust of community members, which helps the program bridge gaps, create connections, and share local knowledge. By elevating Tribal elders to serve as disaster case managers, the program offers culturally appropriate messages that groups that might naturally distrust recovery efforts will begin to listen to.
Collaborators in the program also work to build awareness of and support local knowledge, practices and adaptation traditions that are a cultural anchor in Native American communities. This type of local knowledge can enhance climate adaptation strategies for other communities facing similar challenges and can even inform government and nonprofit recovery activities. Indigenous peoples and cultures in Louisiana are building living oyster reefs to prevent soil erosion in the bayou and are refilling canals dug by oil & gas companies that endanger the natural environment. The effect of this traditional land management practice is ecosystem restoration, risk reduction, and non-structural mitigation that works with natural ecosystems. The cumulative approach of the IR-DCMP program creates landscapes and communities that are better prepared to withstand the threats of climate change.
To date, the IR-DCMP has helped over 100 families who are being case-managed by elders and community leaders from their respective Tribes. Early in the program's tenure, there is already plenty to celebrate, including securing hundreds of thousands of dollars in assistance from FEMA and additional financial support from area nonprofits working through two Long-Term Recovery Groups and investing in long-term recovery. Disaster case managers have been focusing their efforts on writing and submitting appeals to FEMA; coordinating with LA Restore - the state's housing recovery program; building connections with area nonprofit organizations to fund recovery projects for individual households; and coordinating with pro-bono attorneys who can assist in legal matters.
Early gains also include funding gifts and donated building materials for Tribal Community Centers, such as the Community Outreach Program Office for the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw. This community gathering space needed to be repaired to function as a place to offer after-school programs for children, disaster case management services, Tribal celebrations, community gardens, and office space for Tribal leaders. Because of funding support from Week of Compassion and the UPS/NVOAD grant, disaster case managers were able to garner further assistance and resources for repairs from Rebuilding Together, The Salvation Army, and a group of volunteers from Break a Difference. The first group of volunteers served January 9-13, 2023.
As more individuals have come forward to enlist their aid with their cases, Tribal leaders and disaster case managers have witnessed how progress generates hope.
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