Tribe and Red Cross Help Native and Non-Native Residents Recover from Tornadoes

May 24, 2013

Local residents register with Red Cross at the Little Axe Resource Center
Credit Susan Shannon

The Absentee Shawnee Tribe’s Little Axe Resource Center is surrounded by greenery and gently rolling hills making it a beautiful backdrop for what has become a place to get help and some of the necessities of life for the surrounding residents.

“Yeah, I've been putting in a lot of hours but I’m glad to do it, that's my job” said Linda Day, the Emergency Manager for the Absentee Shawnee. “It’s just not 8 to 5, its just whenever we have a disaster, could be in the middle of the night, and I'm always ready to go.”

This is not the center’s first time at the tornado rodeo. When last Sunday’s tornado tore through Shawnee, the tribe began to round up their emergency personnel, and the Red Cross made sure they had what they needed, items such as food, cots and volunteers.

“Officially we had people coming in Sunday night and then the Red Cross came in on Monday and got things set up,” Day said.  Also on call was Donna Butler, she prepares the food for the Elders Nutrition Program for the tribe.

“I started Monday about 9 o'clock and I worked till 11 last night… just feeding people and just waiting on people, make sure they have water, just whatever they need,” said Butler.

But she also said many tribal elders are just coming in for snacks and food to take home.

“A lot of our elderly people are out tending to their homes. They just come in and go right back out because they're scared of people looting their homes,” said Butler. “But we will probably see a lot more today because I'm seeing them now coming in wanting hot food.”

The Governor of the Absentee Shawnee, George Blanchard, left his desk behind to help coordinate donations and work teams. Blanchard said the Chickasaw Nation sent a team to help with clearing out debris.

“I was told just recently that we have over thirty homes that have been either demolished or damaged by the winds,” Gov. Blanchard said, speaking from one tribal building that had become a donation center, receiving goods from local churches.

Two child psychologists, Dr. Noel Jacobs and Dr. Lois Pokwarnie, were among the Red Cross volunteers. Jacobs volunteered as a way to comfort his own children when they felt anxious about what to do to help. Pokwarnie has been volunteering since the Oklahoma City bombing and said it came down to a few simple basics.

“One thing is, I help people realize that they are probably safe at this very moment. At this moment they're safe and the people they're with are safe,” Pokwarnie  said. “And then I would want to gingerly ask about their other loved ones but basically make them feel safe at this moment, to take away instantaneous or current feelings of insecurity.”