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Fire Destroys 18 Homes on Yakama Reservation

February 23, 2011

Last week, a fire ravaged 18 homes on the Yakama (or Yakima) Indian Reservation in Central Washington.  The disaster, which has been since ruled accidental, left 120 people homeless.  It is reported that the fire started in a chimney, spreading quickly through the wooded area due to strong winds, causing an estimated $4 million in damages.

Luckily, donations have been pouring in, and the community has come together to support the victims of the fire.  One hotel owner opened his doors to people who needed a place to stay free of charge.   I’m relieved to see that people have been stepping up to take care of the people who were left with nothing, but the disaster brings to our attention several serious issues in Indian Country.  Poor housing conditions caused by grueling poverty result in overcrowding and houses that are falling apart because of lack of upkeep, making them more susceptible to fires.  It is suspected, for example, that many of the houses had asbestos.

I don’t know the intricate details about the conditions of the houses before they burned down, and I can’t say that the chimney that caused the fire did so because of poor maintenance because of lack of resources.  However, we do know that just under 15% of families in Yakima County live below the poverty line, double the rate for the state of Washington, it has the highest childhood poverty rate in the state, and the barriers to adequate housing for Native Americans throughout the country are numerous.   For example, complicated federal laws make it a bureaucratic nightmare for Native Americans to build on their own land, and centuries of marginalization have left them in such dire poverty that many couldn’t afford it anyway.  Simply put, the fire on the Yakama Reservation hit the people who are among the least equipped to deal with such a tragedy.  Those with little to begin with now have even less, and their challenges will extend for many months after the last flames are extinguished.   We need to avoid this situation in the future by providing Native communities with the resources they need in the first place to give them a more secure foothold in the world.  Simultaneously empowering tribes to be sovereign and supporting them with resources that they need (and have the autonomy to choose what to do with them) is the task of the U.S. government, and FCNL will continue to advocate, as we have for decades, for the rights of Native people.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Inez permalink
    February 23, 2011 6:02 pm

    Thanks for bringing this to the attention of the FCNL community!

  2. May 12, 2011 5:38 am

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  3. May 13, 2011 8:43 am

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