PINE RIDGE, S.D. — Ice-cold winters are not unheard of here in the Dakotas, but even on the Pine Ridge Reservation, temperatures of –19 degrees, with a –34 degree wind chill, were pushing the envelope on Tuesday.
Although extreme temperatures closed down local communities, people took the weather in stride, local leaders told Indian Country Today Media Network.
“We are born and raised in South Dakota. Everyone knows what winters are like here,” said Wayne Duchenaux, administrative officer for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in Eagle Butte, South Dakota.
The frigid temperatures at Pine Ridge, recorded at eight o’clock on Tuesday morning, were only projected to plummet, with even more extreme temps expected throughout the day and into Wednesday in the Dakotas.
But tribes, flush with lessons from the massive ice storm of last winter that knocked out power for two weeks to the Cheyenne River Sioux and other area tribes, were ready to handle the winter weather emergencies. Schools and local businesses were closed in many areas on Monday Jan 31. Schools remained closed on Tuesday, and many tribal offices opened late to allow members to make sure everything and everyone was safe at home before heading off into the cold.
“I think we are going to be alright,” Duchenaux said. “We have winter preparedness programs where we help people with propane and provide heaters, we assist people wherever we can. We are trying to become more proactive and less reactive to everything. For instance all four school systems on the reservation were closed yesterday, and we made sure we got the word out to people early so they could plan accordingly. Today we are having a late start for work (10 a.m.) and made everyone aware of that as soon as we could.”
Many local businesses remained closed on Tuesday, and districts opened their camp offices, or town halls, and schools to shelter those who needed a place to stay warm.
“We are trying to keep everybody informed,” said local radio announcer and Oglala Sioux Tribe member DJ Mahiyamaza (Arlo Ironcloud). “There are community members organizing and gathering firewood for elders, and donations of propane are being made for those who can’t afford it. We are holding our own right now.”
Ironcloud, who is with Pine Ridge’s KILI Radio 90.1 FM, said Tuesday-night temperatures were predicted to be in the –30 to –45 range with wind chill and would continue that way through Wednesday evening.
Area residents, too, were weaving last year’s valuable lessons into their preparations, Duchenaux said, by taping their water pipes and double-checking that their propane tanks were full.
He added that the tribes are teaming up with their Game, Fish and Parks Department, Cultural Preservation Office, Environmental Protection Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs as responding agencies.
“For instance, during the Christmas Eve storm we had a person at IHS who was at risk of rupturing their appendix,” Duchenaux said. “Through three of those departments we plowed a road out to Rapid City and got him there in time to have surgery before it ruptured. We coordinate with all of our programs, the BIA and IHS to service people as quickly as possible.”