Churches Struggle to Aid
Snow-Bound Native Americans

By Jack Donovan
Episcopal News Service

Two Episcopal churches in North Dakota are struggling to provide food and warmth for Native Americans suffering through the harshest winter in memory on the Standing Rock Reservation.

"This winter the snow started in October and never left," said the Rev. John Floberg, vicar of St. Luke's in Cannonball, and St. James' in Fort Yates, the two Episcopal churches serving the North Dakota side of the reservation. "We've had nine snowstorms or blizzards."

Snow accumulations up to five times normal levels combined with a tripling of the price of propane and the cutting of federal funds for weatherizing and homebuilding to create a crisis that has brought the reservation designation as a federal disaster area. "The need for fuel has eaten into all other resources," Floberg said. "Food has been taken off the table to pay for it."

At the food pantries administered by Floberg's two churches, over 4,500 pounds of food was distributed recently to 160 families. "We were open one hour in Fort Yates and an hour and a half in Cannonball," he said. "We stopped giving out only because that was all we could afford. There was more need, but we didn't have more resources." Nonetheless, he said, the pantries supplied a week's worth of food to 800 individuals, enough to last until the beginning of the next month when food stamps are available.

While the federal cuts have caused housing shortages and disrepair on the reservation, Floberg's churches are feeling the pinch of a 40% reduction in federal funding for their social progams. "We can't afford to keep St. James' heated," he said. "I've been here since '91 and this is the first time we've had to shut the church down." Floberg added that he worries about the effect the closing will have on those people who see the church as "an island in their struggle to lead a life of sobriety."

As the result of an interview with a radio station in nearby Fargo, Floberg said that he expects local people and the Red Cross to supply ample blankets and coats to the reservation. Money is still needed to expand the food pantry program and to supply some houses with space heaters which are cheaper to use than propane and can be placed in "the rooms that need it most, like where the children sleep."

He also requested prayers. "I even sent a prayer request over the Internet," said Floberg, whose address on the QUEST computer network is JOHN FLOBERG. "Good old Internet. Within two days we had calls saying, 'We've got resources. How can we help?'"

[ Return to Christian News Archives | Return to Village Life Magazine ]

Copyright © 1999 Inc. All Rights Reserved