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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: American Indian Relief Team To Tsunami Disaster


A team of American Indian physicians, educators and emergency professionals are readying to provide relief to victims of the Asian tsunami disaster. In the Native tradition of reaching out to those suffering, three friends are organizing an emergency response team.

Dr. Robert Lame Bull McDonald, Blackfeet and member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, will be serving as a volunteer with the World Health Organization in the disaster relief.

McDonald is organizing the emergency response team with Brock Albin, law professor already in Korea and involved in the relief effort, and Robert Free from Seattle, Indian rights activist and creator of the Native BEAR AIDS Project.

''The mission is to save lives,'' McDonald told Indian Country Today. ''Together we will constitute a civilian emergency medical relief team. My goal is to form an Emergency Air and Ground Lift and Evacuation Service Team.''

EAGLES will follow a legacy.

McDonald is named after his great-great grandfather, Lame Bull, who signed the first treaty between the United States and the Blackfeet Nation. McDonald has already provided emergency medical services to remote Indian areas of the United States.

When W.H.O. asked McDonald how soon he could be in the tsunami disaster area, he first thought of Albin and Free. Free has been in the forefront of Indian rights struggles, including the occupations of Alcatraz and Wounded Knee and the fight for Indian fishing rights in the Northwest. During the 1990s, Free brought together medicine men with health professionals for the Native BEAR Project, to serve Indians with AIDS. Free was in Thailand for the world AIDS conference in 2004.

McDonald said: ''I immediately contacted Brock to ask him if he wanted to go with me or meet me in tsunami country. To my surprise, he was already there! I then contacted Free, since he recently returned from the area, to see if he wanted to join us and he was all for it.

''I have not yet returned word to the W.H.O. as to my available dates of deployment because I am still working out the details of what our team can and will do. Brock has already scouted out what the needs are over there and we likely will return as a complete relief party in a few weeks if we can generate enough capital.''

Albin, an attorney serving with the non-profit Youth Imperative, was in the hardest hit areas of Thailand, the region of Phuket and Kao Lok, and returned to Korea on Jan. 1. He helped deliver medications to villagers and foreign nationals and treat minor ailments.

''One village, for instance, was missing 4,000 of its 4,500 residents; we visited the morgues to help identify bodies,'' Albin told ICT by way of e-mail from Korea.

While in the hard-hit areas of Thailand, Albin traveled to a small island to search for the only missing person there, a 23-year-old girl from London; set up a mental health office at the command center in Phuket and visited patients at Phuket hospitals. He also delivered food, clothes and medical supplies.

Organizing from Seattle and readying for the relief effort, Free said it is traditional to help allies. Free pointed out that Pueblos took in other Pueblos when there was a lack of rain and Plains groups helped each other during colonial assaults.

Albin, Potawatomi and a Stanford-trained attorney, met McDonald in college, when they were both in the Indian Club at Montana State University. They traveled to San Francisco in 1992 and met Free, who was helping organize a protest of Columbus Day.

''Now the three of us are organizing a relief mission which will probably land us on Andaman Island to help save lives,'' Albin said.

Albin, from Bozeman, Mont., founded Youth Imperative, Inc. in 1995. It is a non-profit providing professional services to youth. It focuses on international human rights and aid to youth, families and their communities. Currently, Albin is living in South Korea and teaching law at Pyongtaek University.

McDonald, Albin and Free hope a team of 10 American Indians can be organized for the relief effort. Albin said the team will need ''a strong gut, an insensitive nose, and a lot of hope, a bit of prayer.''

EAGLES team members should plan to spend at least a week as non-paid volunteers. Team members are needed to assist in identifying and processing bodies and delivering supplies.

Supplies needed immediately include medications, ointments, anti-anxiety medicine, school materials, building tools, mosquito tents, malaria pills, typhoid and other injections, a way to purify water, materials to entertain kids and dry food. They will also need bandages, shovels, rugged mini-DVD video camera and tripod, extra batteries, mosquito repellant, sun-screen, hats, backpacks, gloves and rubber boots.

It may be more practical to buy supplies overseas, rather than airlift items from the United States.

Along with medical services, disaster victims need psychological services, including counseling for victims, volunteers and family members. There is also a great need for education facilities; schools must be established and there is a need to educate people about disease prevention. Construction is also a priority, to rebuild roads, buildings and infrastructure.

Albin said the team needs a ''teacher, mental health professional, doctor, nurse and a couple lawyers to sacrifice to appease the gods.

''If you'd like to join, please tell me what week in the next four would be best for you. If you want to donate materials or cash, please advise. No one will be paid. All volunteer. But we'll likely need a few thousand dollars to equip and send people over, plus supplies for the people in need.''

For security reasons, the team may be based in Thailand, but Albin said Indonesia and Sri Lanka are the areas where the team is needed the most although Thailand is still in need of much assistance.

More than 7,000 people are estimated to have died in the Andaman and Nicobar chain of more than 550 islands. The tsunami disaster threatens the survival of five indigenous tribes: The Great Andamanese, Sentinelese, Onge, Jarawa and the Shompen.

For more information, e-mail Dr. Robert Lame Bull McDonald at indianrobert@msn.com or Brock Albin at albinlaw@justice.com.

This article appears in Indian Country Today


Brenda Norrell

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

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