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Native American Reservations Forced to Evacuate
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Native American Reservations Forced to Evacuate

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Native American Reservations Forced to Evacuate

Native American Reservations Forced to Evacuate
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Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the wildfires in southern California, including many Native Americans. Vernon Wright is Chairman of the tribal council for the Rincon Luiseno Indian Nation. Wright updates listeners on the condition of tribal members and their properties. Rincon Luiseno Indian Nation is among the tribes hit hardest by the fires.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We're joined by Vernon Wright, chairman of the tribal council for the Rincon Luiseno Indian Nation. That nation's casino has become an evacuation shelter for those fleeing the fires. It's currently housing members of the La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians.

Chairman Wright, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. VERNON WRIGHT (Chairperson, Rincon San Luiseno Band of Mission Indians): Thank you, Michel for inviting me to talk on National Public Radio.

MARTIN: Can you - well, thank you for speaking with us. Can you help us understand where your community is located and the casino is located in relation to the fires for those of us who aren't as familiar with the area?

Mr. WRIGHT: We're in north San Diego County, about 15 miles - it would be northeast of Escondido.

MARTIN: Okay. And how many people have sought shelter with you, and how are they doing?

Mr. WRIGHT: We're housing approximately 600 people here. And they all seem to be holding up well. The Red Cross has made contact with us and now (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Do you think you have what you need to take care of people? I can't imagine that you have that much, you know, inventory or food for 600 people just sitting around. Do you think you have what you need?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, we're on our own through about two and a half days, and now the Red Cross has come, come and has taken over helping us feed and deal with all the people that are here.

MARTIN: Have you been able to assess the damage to tribal lands?

Mr. WRIGHT: We've lost 57 homes here on Rincon.

MARTIN: Out of how many?

Mr. WRIGHT: Approximate 320.

MARTIN: That's a lot.

Mr. WRIGHT: Yeah.

MARTIN: It's a pretty good number. Forgive me for asking, but are people aware that their homes have been lost, or…

Mr. WRIGHT: Most people are getting the word that their homes have been lost. So it's - they are very close to - the casino is actually on the reservation, so they're very close. And we have travel security that's out and giving reports back to us.

MARTIN: How are you people able to - are they able to get information pretty well? You've mentioned that you were on your own for a while because - I guess you're still - you're in San Diego County but you're still sort of isolated. Why was there this lag? Did the Red Cross not know you needed the help, or was there some communication problem in getting that information out?

Mr. WRIGHT: I think both - two problems. One, communication, and there were some road blockages. We're located are very rural, rugged area, very hilly, and the roads access into the casino (unintelligible) the reservation. I think it was difficult.

MARTIN: Okay. And what do the prospects look at for rebuilding?

Mr. WRIGHT: I think we're - we've got FEMA coming in. We've got the BIA coming in on the 30th. So that will start our process as we assess what the insurance people had and who didn't have insurance. We'll be able to kind of assess and start the rebuilding process.

MARTIN: And Amy, I wanted to ask you the same question, is that - do you have a sense of the - we know what sort of the damage is to homes, but what about to many of the folks that you've been covering - do you have a sense of - do you have any sense of what they're going to do now? Do you think they're going to try to stay put? I mean, if they're - if the farms where they have been working have been damaged there won't be any work. Do you have any sense of what they're going to do? What do they think they're going to do?

AMY ISAACSON: Right. Well, the people that I spoke to yesterday actually had continued working in the tomato fields nearby. I actually was out covering one of the fires and was coming back on Tuesday and saw a group of 50 men coming out of another tomato field. So those workers are staying put. They have stayed put through the fire because they're just too scared to leave. They don't want to lose their job.

They are also just concerned about going to the shelters. You know, they're used to living in the shadows and they didn't want to go to shelters to register. Other people - I think that for people whose farms were in fire areas, they're now out of work. I talked to a man yesterday who works at a nursery - that's like a - the nursery plants are about $1 billion industry in San Diego County.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Okay.

ISAACSON: And his nursery was closed and he had been looking for work for the last…

MARTIN: Okay.

ISAACSON: …two days.

MARTIN: All right. Amy, thank you so much. Amy Isaacson covers border issues for member station KPBS in San Diego.

Amy, thanks so much for speaking with us.

We were also joined by Vernon Wright. He is chairman of the tribal council at the Rincon Luiseno Indian nation.

Chairman Wright, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. WRIGHT: Thank you, Michel.

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