The local residents refer to the stretch of road replaced near the Yankton Sioux Tribal housing in Lake Andes as “Noem Highway.” The state had raised this road to prevent flooding into the tribal community. Two weeks later it was under feet of water, and ironically created a dam for the water to stay in the housing. Photo by Richie Richards / Native Sun News Today

Yankton Sioux Tribe flooding and recovery

Native Sun News Today Correspondent

LAKE ANDES – A series of two flooding periods have occurred on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in eastern South Dakota in the last six months, leaving devastation and a need for assistance.

The Yankton Sioux Tribe is located in southeastern South Dakota. This checkerboard reservation is situated just off the Missouri River and Fort Randall dam. This year has been especially difficult for tribal members who are having flooding problems in the three main towns where tribal citizens live; Marty, Wagner, and Lake Andes.

In recent months, the town of Lake Andes has been deeply affected by waters that are flooding from the Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge, located just outside of a tribal housing area in Charles Mix County. The flooding has affected 64 houses in the area and disrupted the lives of nearly 300 tribal members.

With limited resources, tribal leaders have stepped up to protect their communities and provide some comfort during these hard times. In August, tribal members were stumped when Gov. Kristi Noem had a stretch of road (Noem Highway tribal members are calling it) redone and raised 3-4 four feet. The raising of this road by the state was meant to keep waters from flooding over the housing from the lake and into the tribal housing areas; instead this newly raised now sits a few feet under water and has created a dam and trapping waters on the other side. These waters are now trapped in the tribal housing area.

Just sharing some pictures and footage from our office #LakeAndesFlood2019

Posted by Colten Archambeau on Monday, September 16, 2019
Yankton Sioux Tribe Historic Preservation Office: #LakeAndesFlood2019

Vice President Jason Cooke, 50, of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, along with others, have activated to protect their community and their “people”. These efforts have included sump pumping the waters from flooded basements and other areas. This has been done in an attempt to protect the houses and families. The tribal vice president spoke to Native Sun News Today.

“I feel good because, I see my young kids have more heart and compassion for their community than anybody else out here. It made me feel good because they were the ones working hard. They are out there filling those sand bags for everyone,” said Cooke.

Cooke talked about the flooding of the Lake Andes tribal housing area which began back in April, but claims the tribe was hit even harder in August when over 15 inches of rain fell in just a matter of days. Since this recent flooding, the vice president the tribe has been serving meals each weekend and has been supplying water and snacks in the evenings for youth and families. “We’re a tribe, so we have limited resources and we are stretching what we have. We got to take care of them,” he said.

For last few weeks, Cooke and several others, have been pumping water from their housing area which is adjacent to non-Native lands located in and next to the town of Lake Andes. This has been done to prevent infrastructure damage and molding issues in the homes. One solution the tribe had come up with has been to dig a trench. This trench would have redirected the waters away from the housing and towards the tributaries which lead to the Fort Randall Dam and Missouri River.

“We been trying to dig trenches and we dug a trench, but it wasn’t working. Maybe we’ll try a coffer dam further down the line. I hear we’re going to have a bad winter,” Cooke said. “We have to get the water out of there before the winter time. We don’t want busted pipes.”

In the meantime, having to deal with the flooding has caused a lot of stress and strain on the families who live in this area. Cooke claims there is unrest and the tensions are high, but states the tribe is doing as much as they can to help families with the limited resources available. “We’re trying to keep them comfortable and we don’t want them to feel like they’re alone.”

“I’m not an engineer. I’m just an Indian boy that tried to do something to try to get the water away. It looked like it (trenching) would work, but it didn’t work. We just stopped on our own. People think that someone made us stop (trenching), but we stopped on our own. That’s our land. We’ll dig on there as much as we want,” he said. Rumors swirl as to why the trenching was halted.

Cooke said he would like to get some engineers come in and dig some trenches or other ways of draining the housing flood waters. He would like to see this done before winter hits and the groundwater freezes, causing damage to underground pipes. The tribe has reached out to the Salvation Army and Red Cross. Also, the Ihanktowan Nation has been receiving help from other tribes, including Sisseton who brought water during the Cooke’s interview with NSNT.

“We had Sisseton bring us water today. We reached out to the State and it seems like it’s not enough damage. We’re not a disaster for them. I don’t know what a disaster is to them. They need to come down and put their feet on the ground and see what people are going through before they can say ‘It’s not a disaster’,” said Cook. “It don’t seem important to them.”


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