The Colville Reservation is the latest victim of massive wildfires in Indian country.

Red Guide to Disaster Recovery Releases Native American Edition


It’s no secret that American Indian tribes are facing the brunt of the climate crisis, and that this often takes the form of dealing with disasters. What might not be so well known is a resource that helps disaster victims navigate the aftermath.

The Red Guide to Recovery Resource Handbook for Disaster Survivors, a longstanding guide that gets distributed to fire departments and other assistance organizations, also has a version specifically geared toward tribes. Compiled by Adam Geisler of the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians, and Sean Scott, restoration contractor, The Red Guide to Recovery Resource Handbook for Disaster Survivors in a Native American and Alaskan Native Edition aims to help tribes cope. Originally conceived to help local tribes deal with the aftermath of reoccurring regional wildfires, The Red Guide to Recovery empowers tribal victims of any disaster with the knowledge they need to become survivors.

“I learned firsthand how lonely and difficult it can be for a reservation hit by a wild fire, or any major disaster for that matter,” said Geisler, speaking in a Red Guide  statement, about the aftermath of the 2007 fire that devastated his reservation. “It was not just the physical cleanup, financial burdens and displacement of families, but also the emotional toll—restoration of lives and coping with the trauma of the fire, trauma that was aggravated by being left homeless, without financial resources, and not knowing where to turn for help. I wanted to share what I learned to spare other tribal communities from going through the same gut-wrenching, frustrating nightmare.”

Scott, a fire restoration contractor, says most people are not prepared for a disaster and fewer yet for recovery. He has been writing various permutations of the guide since witnessing catastrophic wildfires in Southern California in 2003.

“What most people don't realize is when first responders leave the scene of a disaster, the survivors are left to figure out their recovery on their own,” the author said in the guide’s statement. “For those who lost homes or are displaced, this can be the beginning of a nightmare. Most disaster survivors don't know what to do, who to trust or where to turn for help in the days, weeks, and months following a disaster.”

Back-to-Back Wildfires

As the Red Guide statement describes, In 2003 Southern California experienced a "Fire Siege" of multiple wildfires that consumed over 800,000 acres and destroyed 3,361 homes; most of these were due to the Cedar Fire that swept through San Diego County. Then in 2007, wildfires again devastated Southern California destroying another 2,300 homes and consuming over 970,000 acres. Some of those hardest hit were the reservations that found themselves in the direct path of an unstoppable inferno that transformed beautiful lands, sacred sites, and communities into what looked like a moonscape. One of those reservations was the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians, which in 2007 lost 33 percent of their homes to the Poomacha Fire, leaving many residents homeless. It was in the weeks and months following these events that many grief stricken survivors found they were unable to rebuild or return home.

“In 2007, I witnessed over 93 percent of my reservation burn to the ground, leaving my 87-year-old grandmother homeless with no belongings; my uncle, cousins and neighbors left with only the shirts on their backs, and my tribal community looking for answers on where to begin after losing everything they owned,” said Geisler.

A Recovery Road Map

For his part, Scott—a San Diego resident and second-generation fire restoration contractor—witnessed the devastation wrought by massive wildfires in 2003 and 2007 and created a recovery road map that first responders could distribute to residents immediately after a disaster to help walk them systematically through the recovery process. His more than 35 years in the construction and disaster restoration industry gave Scott a unique perspective and experience that can strip the mystery from the recovery process and empower people with the knowledge they need to rebuild their homes and lives.

The resulting book, which first came out in 2009, covers a wide range of topics, including how to avoid scams, how to handle insurance claims, safety tips, hazardous material precautions, smoke and water damage issues, trauma intervention and grief counseling, and much more, its description states.

After creation of The Red Guide, Scott teamed up with Geisler, the tribal council secretary for the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians, who was instrumental in the recovery of his community from the 2007 Poomacha fire. Geisler facilitated communications between tribal, state and federal agencies to reconstruct the La Jolla Reservation, which included the rebuilding of 39 homes and the restoration of critical infrastructure that had been destroyed.

“I watched martial law and military forces enter our reservation to secure what was left of it,” Geisler said. “I worked directly with several government agencies such as FEMA, and community and faith based groups like the American Red Cross and the Southern Baptists to sift through the ashes and start over from scratch.”

It was a long and challenging path, Geisler said in the guide’s media release, but “my community recovered with the assistance of other tribes and nonprofit agencies providing support for immediate sheltering, donations of homes for those uninsured, replacement of household items and tools of lively hood, and the rebuilding of homes through the assistance of my Tribal Housing Authority and home insurance providers like AMERIND.”

Geisler’s efforts expedited his tribe's recovery, enabling members to completely restore and recover their stability in under a year. Now, by pooling their expertise and experience, he and Scott have produced a customized version of The Native American & Alaska Native Edition of the Red Guide to Recovery. Geisler has championed publication and distribution of the handbook with funding assistance from tribal organizations and the county of San Diego.

Making a Difference in Indian Country

This year with the support of the Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association, the Inter-Tribal Long Term Recovery Foundation, the Pala, and Barona Bands of Mission Indians, the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, and San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn, a unique partnership was formed. Working together, these partners were able to bring The Red Guide to Recovery to all 17 tribes, as well as fire departments throughout San Diego County.

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