Ash Creek Fire on Northern Cheyenne Reservation largely ignoredby Anna Groff
While the Ash Creek Fire in Montana burned far fewer structures than the fire in Colorado Springs, Colo., Erica Littlewolf says, it caused significant devastation to the land and people of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
Ash Creek Fire in Montana. Photo by Tommy B. Robinson photography.
According to GreatFallsTribune.com, the fire has burned about 16 homes and 22 other structures. However, the land itself is precious to many of the Cheyenne nation who “live off the land,” using it for hunting, fishing, ranching, farming and more, said Littlewolf on July 11.
Littlewolf is a Cheyenne tribal member from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and grew up in Busby, Mt. She now lives in Albuquerque, N.M., and serves as Mennonite Central Committee’s indigenous vision center coordinator. Littlewolf said she feels called to the justice issues surrounding the fire.
“Disasters are unfortunate, but it seems like they hit communities of poverty differently than communities of affluence,” she said. “The lack of news coverage doesn’t help the issues.”
According to Littlewolf, mainstream society values structures and homes more than land, and that is why she says the Colorado Springs fire received more press and attention.
The lightning-caused Ash Creek fire has burned 249,562 acres since it started on June 25 but is now almost entirely contained, according to the Billings Gazette website. This year brought 301 wildfires to Montana—most of them on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. The reservation saw 27 fires this year, 25 of them human caused.
“The fire burned all around Ashland, Ashland Christian Fellowship, St. Labre and Heritage Living Center,” Willis Busenitz wrote in a July 9 email. “All these places were spared.”
Busenitz is a pastor of White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church in Busby.
During the week of June 8, Littlewolf traveled from her home in Albuquerque to Montana. She attended a pow wow that included a ceremony acknowledging the grief of the families who lost their homes and the devastation of the land.
Despite the challenges of poverty and now the fire, Littlewolf said, she witnessed the spiritual strength of the community.
Mennonite Central Committee is sending health and hygiene kits, pet supplies and canned meat as well as $2,000, according to Maynard Knepp, director of donor relations and of material resources for MCC Central States.
MCC will collect items for the kits at thrift stores in Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa, he said on July 12. Items will also be brought from Minnesota and Colorado. Dennis Lapp volunteered to pick up the items in his truck and deliver them to Montana.
Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) is also in conversation with some pastors from the reservation, according to Littlewolf.
“The response and help has come from the church and nonprofit communities,” she said. “The relationship that MCC and MDS have with my reservation has been a big influence. That’s come from people being in relationship with one another, not necessarily formal relationships.”
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