According to a June 18 article on GreatFallsTribune.com, damage caused by rain and flooding during May to the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana amounted to $879,168, or about one-tenth of the $8.6 million in damages reported statewide. Governor Brian Schweizer asked for and received a presidential disaster declaration that will bring $6.5 million to the state (state and local jurisdictions will be responsible for raising the remaining $2.1 million).
Although financial help is on the way, the day-to-day of life for the Crow will be radically different and difficult for some time. A RapidCityJournal.com article reported that 22 homes on the reservation were destroyed when, due to record-breaking rainfall, the waters of the Little Bighorn River flooded the nearby land, and more than 200 homes have been damaged. The rains caused numerous roof cave-ins, while the deluge swept away vehicles and outbuildings, and emptied many homes of their residents’ belongings.
A complicating factor in the recovery, the Rapid City Journal reported, is the nature of home ownership. Homes that are tribally-owned are eligible for the FEMA repair funds, but residents who own their homes are responsible for their own recovery and repairs. For those homeowners, flood insurance would be key–but many don’t have it.
Those displaced by the flood were moved to shelters in Billings, MT, organized by the Red Cross. According to Disaster News Network, some 300 evacuees were housed in dorm rooms at Montana State University Billings after a shelter at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints proved too small. The Billings Gazette reported that on June 3, the final 90 evacuees left the shelter on the MSUB campus.
But that didn’t mean everyone could go home. On June 15, the head count in the Multipurpose Building at Crow Agency, which had became a temporary shelter coordinated by the Montana Red Cross, stood at 45.
“There are still people there,” Solomon Little Owl, an enrolled member of the Crow Indian Nation who works in the office of Native American Student Services at the University of Northern Colorado, said on June 29. “And those people have nowhere to go. They’re homeless.”
On June 21, Crow officials held a 30-minute ceremony to offer thanks to all who have helped the tribe get through the disaster, and to those who will continue to help in the tribe’s recovery. “On behalf of the Crow Nation, I express our gratitude to all who have helped, and it’s not over,” said triabl secretary Bill Russell. according to BillingsGazette.com. “But I’m confident that we will get through this together.”
The following day, the annual Crow Native Days festivities kicked off as planned. The five-day event includes sporting contests, a parade, and re-enactments of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Little Owl feels it was a good thing that the festival happened, but that the mood was glum at times. “They had a rough time with Crow Native Days,” he says, “because people weren’t spending any money. They weren’t buying things or going to the casino.”
Many Crow tribal members compared this flood to one in 1977. Little Owl says that this time around, he expects the recovery activities to be more rigorous. “The 1977 flood damaged a lot of homes,” he says, “but a lot of people just moved back into them. The foundations were bad, in some cases the homes had actually moved a few feet. There was black mold in some houses. Those homes should have been condemned, but they weren’t, and people continued to live in them. I think this time, we’ll see more houses condemned, as they should be.”
He also said that some lessons were learned from the 1977 flood about the lingering effects. “There’s going to be contamination from sewage,” he said. “They’re going to be finding dead animals. As of last week, they still didn’t have fresh water–that’s going to continue to be the biggest problem.”