PIERRE | Three months after the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was first engulfed in springtime floods, the White House has approved a presidential disaster declaration to provide federal emergency relief.
In a statement Friday, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner said federal officials accepted the reservation's emergency request weeks after it was made. The tribe requested an emergency declaration separate from the state, whose $46 million request was accepted June 8.
According to the release, the declaration was the first time the Federal Emergency Management Agency has granted a federal disaster declaration directly to the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Bear Runner said the tribe is "grateful that FEMA has responded to our dire situation."
“We are very much eager to use this aid to begin our path out of poverty," he said. "We find ourselves increasingly pummeled by unprecedented weather events, and now more than ever, it’s critical that the federal government partner with tribal nations and other vulnerable communities. There must be a timely response to these climate-related disasters.”
In mid-March, Winter Storm Ulmer pummeled South Dakota with snow and did around $10 million in damage to the reservation, according to the news release. Temperatures suddenly warmed and the snow melted rapidly, causing widespread flooding.
Residents on Pine Ridge were stranded in homes surrounded by floodwaters, with emergency rescues and supply drop-offs conducted by boat. Eight thousand residents were left without clean drinking water after floodwaters washed out the rural water system, and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem deployed National Guard soldiers to deliver water.
In April, Winter Storm Wesley brought more snow and severe weather, which the tribe said did further damage and delayed recovery from Ulmer.
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Chase Iron Eyes, public relations director for Bear Runner, said in Friday's release that the tribe's decision to seek federal aid independent of South Dakota was a risk but was important as "an expression of the inherent sovereign status of the Oglala Sioux Tribe."
Pine Ridge was previously included in South Dakota's $3 million claim for individual private property damages.
FEMA and state officials have established a disaster recovery center in Pine Ridge, where the tribe said more than 300 private property owners have requested individual assistance. The tribe said they anticipate that number to grow to 1,500 claims.
“I’m looking forward to making sure that every family in every one of our communities comes out of this emergency with every opportunity for an improved quality of life," Bear Runner said in the release.
Pine Ridge, home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is located in the southwestern portion of South Dakota in an area larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
SEE MORE: Photos of flooding on Pine Ridge