In 2021, a 150 mph hurricane named Ida ravaged southeastern Louisiana, with reports of up to 91 related deaths, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
Shirell Parfait-Dardar, a Louisiana resident and the tribal chief of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, said she and her community are still recovering from Ida.
“It was crucial that we stayed in the community,” said Parfait-Dardar. “I needed to be where my people could find me. We built what we could out of the rubble that was left of our home.”
Although Parfait-Dardar was working with local non-profit organizations to recover, government policy imposed barriers that restricted the funding they needed to rebuild.
Parfait-Dardar spoke at a climate briefing via Zoom hosted by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute last week to voice her concerns about marginalized communities after disaster hits.
Chauncia Willis, the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management, presented at the briefing. Audience members included federal agency and congressional staff members.
I-DIEM is a global non-profit organization aiming to “facilitate change by integrating equity into all aspects of emergency management,” according to their website.
The organization focuses on community engagement. Their Equity Response Teams and workshops give underserved communities resources on disaster bias and the history of emergency management.
Historically, poverty bias and bias in disaster mitigation have disproportionately affected marginalized and low-income communities, Willis explained.
“America has a history that has to be accounted for,” said Willis, who has 22 years of emergency management experience. “Specifically in times of disaster, we are seeing the unfortunate impact of structural racism, we are seeing the unfortunate impact of poverty bias and we are seeing the unfortunate impacts when we do not prioritize equity.”
Over 75 percent of leadership roles in emergency management are white and male, and there are no leaders of color in local emergency management jurisdiction agencies in Louisiana, said Willis.
Parfait-Dardar and her tribe have a personal connection to Willis and I-DIEM who after Hurricane Ida last year.
“When [our team] deployed to Louisiana for Hurricane Ida, I believe it was divine,” said Willis.
Willis saw firsthand the remnants of Parfait-Dardar’s newly built home, her sewing business inside completely destroyed as well. I-DIEM was able to formulate a specialized plan to help them recover.
The Grand Caillou/Dulac tribe was one of many indigenous tribes in the area who had difficulties receiving assistance from their local officials due to language barriers and not being recognized by either the state, the federal government or both.
“At the end of the day, we are tax-paying citizens and we contribute into these systems that are supposed to be providing these services to the community regardless of our identity as Indigenous and tribal peoples,” said Parfait-Dardar.
In order to receive state and federal recognition, Indigenous peoples have been required to prove their genealogy in lengthy narratives which can be costly and difficult.
Without being formally recognized, they cannot receive the federal funding to complete disaster mitigation projects in their communities.
Willis said the disproportionate access to government resources fuels the inequity between low-income communities of color and high-income, mostly white communities.
“At the time, Chief Shirell had her children out there, sitting on crates with no roof in the hot sun,” said Willis. “That’s the thing people don’t seem to realize, outside, is that we are dealing with real people.”
The two speakers advocated for more equity and diversity in emergency management, as well as allowing marginalized communities to have a say in the decision-making process.
Parfait-Dardar said Indigenous peoples have centuries-old “traditional ecological knowledge” of their land and environment, which could help address the future issues of climate change and extreme weather.
“If we all were to embrace that concept, if we could break that cycle and elevate diversity and elevate other people’s voices, we would find solutions to major issues,” said Willis. “I believe until we do so, we’re all going to suffer.”