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Native American team provides disaster response



Members of the disaster early response team from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference remove debris left by an April 24 tornado in Eagle Pass, Texas.
UMNS photos by Julio Corral and Mark Garza.












A UMNS Report
By Fran Coode Walsh*

May 17, 2007

The Rev. Julienne Judd is used to rushing into areas most people have evacuated.

As part of the disaster early response team from The United Methodist Church's Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, Judd helps coordinate volunteers who can travel to the site of a disaster within 42 to 84 hours, assess the damage and immediately start cleaning up debris and helping as needed.



"Every tribe has its own culture and ways of dealing with grief," says the Rev. Julienne Judd.  

Fast response is key to helping survivors, according to Judd. "They're so traumatized and ... (they) look around and see the devastation and don't know where to begin," she said.

Judd and a team of eight volunteers arrived in Eagle Pass, Texas, after an April 24 tornado killed seven residents and destroyed much of the town.

"We were feeding chickens because there was no water here," Judd said. "… We who come from other places that don't have the disaster ... have the opportunity of looking around, saying, 'OK, what can we do and how can we start?' And generally that helps the person who's in the disaster to maybe just have a little peace and know where to start."

The team also offers the comfort of a familiar face. The group was formed in response to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, where federal recovery workers noticed "that there were a lot of people who were responding ... but they didn't have people of color who were specifically needed at that time," according to Judd.



Anthony Sacquat-Castro helps with
the cleanup.

The Rev. David Wilson, superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, said the conference formed its own response teams and asked the United Methodist Committee on Relief to train them. Now there are 10 team leaders who organize volunteers and try to respond whenever the disasters involve Native American communities.

"Every tribe has its own culture and ways of dealing with grief," Judd said. "We've worked at Katrina with the victims there on the Houma reservation. We have gone to California when they had the fires. We've been to New York to (work with) the Native people … during 9/11." The teams also responded to the 2005 shootings on the Red Lake reservation in Minnesota, she said.

Wilson said people are sometimes skeptical about a Native American team being "capable" of offering assistance, but he pointed out that "Native people have lived with disasters all our lives. That helps us be more prepared.

Helping Eagle Pass

The tornado in Eagle Pass affected a Kickapoo reservation. Two members of Judd's team, Anthony and Lawana Sacquat-Castro, are from the Kickapoo reservation near Horton, Kan. The husband-and-wife team wanted to help their Native brothers and sisters and make sure none of their family members were hurt. As it turned out, the reservation was not significantly damaged, and no Castro family members were injured.

Judd is from the Kiowa and Choctaw Tribes of Oklahoma. She is the pastor at the Lawrence (Kan.) Indian United Methodist Church and at Sullivan Chapel in Topeka. She also is campus minister at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence and leads the Kahbeah Fellowship on the Kickapoo reservation near Horton. The trip to Eagle Pass was her fifth as a recovery team leader.



Team members take a break from recovery work in Eagle Pass. 

Native American people always respond positively when they see the disaster teams, according to Judd, noting that team members receive a lot of hugs and messages of thanks. "Responses like that definitely mean we're making a difference," she said.

On this trip, the team cleaned up a mostly Hispanic neighborhood in Eagle Pass. Few of the homeowners spoke English, but they were able to communicate their gratitude in other ways. "They went to get us water the first day," Judd said. "That was very inspirational for us because as Native people we know that sometimes the best that you can do is offer water, and so that … was something that touched us in our hearts."

It was the Castros' first experience with the response team - but not their last. "This is one of the things that I've always wanted to do," said Lawana Sacquat-Castro. "That's what we believe: help one another, Christ's children. We're all His children."

Plans are under way to train more disaster response team leaders this fall in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. For more information, contact Wilson at (405) 632-2006 or dwilson@oimc.org.

*Walsh is the supervising producer of UMTV, a unit of United Methodist Communications based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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