Members of the state legislature’s American Indian Caucus are urging Montanans to donate money and help people impacted by extreme winter weather.
In an opinion column published in the Missoulian Friday, all 10 members of the Montana American Indian Caucus liken the plight of people caught in blizzards on three Native American reservations to that of farmers and ranchers facing drought and wildfire last summer.
They urge readers to donate time, food, bottled water, warm clothes, snow removal equipment, supplies or funds to residents of the Blackfeet, Fort Belknap and Northern Cheyenne reservations, as well as the surrounding counties.
Shane Morigeau, a Democrat representing Missoula, says pictures shared over social media showed him the storms are a bigger deal than the average Montana winter.
"A guy in Blackfeet Country standing on top of snow drift, digging his mom’s car out," Morigeau says. "He’s about six feet above the car, and you can just see the front bumper sticking out of the snow."
Morigeau has also heard of Northern Cheyenne ranchers running out of feed for their livestock, dialysis patients not being able to access medical providers, babies running out of milk, and families who rely on wood stoves collecting tree branches for firewood.
"You start thinking about, it's not just one or two people," he says. "You have entire communities."
Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency for three reservations and counties earlier this week retroactively dated to February 14. Bullock visited Blackfeet tribal officials in Browning on Thursday to see firsthand the impacts of the storms.
On Friday afternoon, Bullock announced the creation of a donation site to assist Montanans suffering from the winter weather.
The National Weather Service predicts additional snowfall and hazardous travel conditions Friday night into Saturday.
Missoula-based Essential Eats Distributors is forwarding donations to the Blackfeet Nation.
Flathead Valley-based Blackfeet Nourish Project is accepting donations to deliver to Browning.
The Blackfeet United Methodist Parish in Browning has opened an emergency shelter in partnership with the American Red Cross. The Church is accepting donations of funds and firewood. To organize a volunteer shift or donate supplies, contact Pastor Dawn Skerritt, who’s running the incident commander at the Columbia Falls United Methodist Church, 406-260-5562.