Month: December 2009

After the Aftermath

After the Aftermath

MMc JanFeb10 coverFive years ago this week, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 150 million people across nearly a dozen countries in southeast Asia. The natural event also displaced millions, leaving them without homes, jobs or schools. Researchers and aid groups that have worked toward recovery understand that rebuilding is only part of the answer, but addressing the social and emotional needs of affected people is a complex mission.

Growing populations and the altering climate and weather patterns are placing more people in risky situations, and making more individuals vulnerable to natural disasters. After attending a talk by Lori Peek, a sociology professor at Colorado State University, about the lag in research on how traumatic events affect families, I started pursuing this story to understand what we know — and what we have dispelled — when it comes to protecting and meeting the long-term needs of disaster victims and refugees.

My article, “After the Aftermath,” appears in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Miller-McCune magazine.

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Custer Was Sioux’d, Now Obama Settles

Custer Was Sioux’d, Now Obama Settles

HCNCOVERJUL09I spent some time reporting on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota this past year, talking with Oglala Lakota tribal members about the complex land ownership patterns and rules on the reservation. Between spotting buffalo hooves on the roofs of homes (to dry them, of course), I saw this great bumper sticker on the side of a conversion van, which has gained a timely double meaning, as government-Indian relations have gone from military to litigious: Custer Was Sioux’d.

Government intervention on reservations across the country dates back more than a century, when policies unwittingly entangled many families’ land ownership so that the default and simplest form of management is through federal leasing programs. The short-sighted decisions of the time contributed to initiation of a landmark class-action lawsuit, Cobell v. Salazar, that accussed the federal government of mismanaging billions of dollars in royalties and other leases. First filed in 1996 and passed on by both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, President Obama and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced a settlement this week. The government has agreed to pay $3.4 billion to Native Americans, although officials don’t know how many individuals qualify for the payout because lease records are in a state of disarray.

On Pine Ridge, some families are trying to sort through their relatives’ fractionated land claims (divided among heirs of the original owner) and remove land from the government program that leases the parcels for cattle grazing. Instead of getting a few hundred dollars to allow a non-Indian to raise cows, these families are returning bison to the land, taking part in a buffalo meat co-operative and, more importantly, reestablishing a major component of their traditional culture.

As part of my reporting, I was fortunate enough to visit with a family raising a small herd of bison and to witness a family ceremony based around a buffalo kill. As part of the prayers of thanks to the animal for giving its life, each member of the family dipped a finger into a cup of blood collected from the dying buffalo’s throat. It didn’t taste much different than a scrape on my knee, although it lingered on my tongue for hours.

My story, “A new land grab,” appeared in the August 31 issue of High Country News, and it was recently liberated from behind the paper’s subscribers-only firewall. I also recorded an audio interview with associate editor Marty Durlin, talking about my reporting experiences.

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