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As Oklahoma Endures Winter Storm, Cherokee Nation Scrambles To Help Elders

Back-to-back record-breaking winter storms with temperatures sometimes dropping into the single digits have slammed into Oklahoma, causing rolling blackouts and water shortages, and making roads nearly impossible to navigate in some areas.

Throughout Cherokee Nation tribal lands in the northeastern part of the state where more than 141,000 Cherokee Nation citizens reside, the freezing temperatures have left some of the most vulnerable people facing dire conditions for much of the week.

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. told NPR, he and other tribal leaders have been prioritizing the needs of elders and other financially insecure members of the community across the sprawling reservation.

"Some of our population lives marginally, so many or our people cannot ride out a storm like this," Hoskin said, noting that the tribal lands are served by a "mix of public utilities."

Over the past week, temperatures have dropped down to the single digits in some areas and the wind chill makes it unbearable in many older homes with poor insulation, he added.

Hoskin said some pockets, including Dry Creek, have had their water systems go down completely. "And elders, in particular, who have older homes have had their pipes frozen."

"That's who we're trying to help right now," Hoskin said.

He said crews are working to deliver bottled water to those areas. Others, including himself, are scrambling to find space heaters to deliver to those stuck inside near-freezing homes.

Hoskin said he and Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner are "looking high and low ... going through our offices today to pull space heaters to get them out to elders."

So far, he estimates they've delivered up to 100.

Some tribal health facilities have also been forced to shut down since frigid temperatures struck the region. That means special crews have been mobilized "to get people their medicine."

"We're taking people to their appointments and to get dialysis treatments," he added.

Urgent care facilities and the reservation's primary hospital have remained open. Health officials plan to reopen the smaller clinics by the afternoon on Thursday. And he hopes the Cherokee Nation will be able to resume its COVID-19 vaccination program before the end of the week.

The tribe's economy has also suffered a major blow due to the storm. All 10 of the reservation's casinos have been shuttered as well as three hotels.

"They've all been shut down and employees are staying home," Hoskin said, noting that the 5,000 employees who work at the facilities are still getting paid while they wait out the bitter weather.

"The Cherokee people have been through a lot and we'll get through this, too," Hoskin said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.