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First Tribal Preparedness Summit engages Texas tribes in disaster preparedness, response and resilience

Summit held by the USA Center for Rural Public Health and Preparedness brings together members from Texas’ federally recognized tribes
storm develops over a rural Texas area

The USA Center for Rural Public Health and Preparedness at Texas A&M Health has a history of partnering with the South Dakota Department of Health to promote and foster tribal public health preparedness within the Sioux Nation.

While the tribal presence in South Dakota is well-known, the public often fails to realize that there is an extensive tribal presence in the state of Texas, which boasts three federally recognized tribes—the Alabama-Coushatta, Kickapoo and Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo.

The USA Center has been working to strengthen its relationship with these tribes, and recently held the first Tribal Preparedness Summit, with two of the tribes sending representatives to the two-day event in Bastrop, Texas.

The event was held to share best practices for disaster preparedness and response and to help connect the tribes to resources they might not have known were available to them.

“It was something that the tribes had expressed an interest in sharing,” said Angela Clendenin, PhD, MA, interim associate director of the USA Center, and an instructional associate professor in the Texas A&M University School of Public Health’s, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. “The USA Center brought them together and spent two days talking about what resilience looks like, particularly for their unique populations.

“It was really about letting them be heard and talking with them about preparedness activities. We had some really good discussions about what resilience looks like and what they could be doing in their communities to measure capacities.”

Clendenin was part of a team that included Brandy Sebesta, assistant director and program manager for the USA Center, and Mayra Rico, program coordinator for the center.

Sebesta, who has been with the center for eight years, played a large part in coordinating the summit, and Clendenin pointed to the relationships Sebesta and former center associate director Kay Carpenter established with the tribes around the country more than a decade ago as a major reason for the success of this event.

“The relationships we have built with the tribal communities we work with has really been a two-way street,” Sebesta said. “Every time we have the opportunity to work with them it has been a learning experience for all involved.”

According to Sebesta, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has been wanting to hold an event for the Texas tribal communities and turned to the expertise of the USA Center team to facilitate this event.

That is where the USA Center—which works to prepare the public health workforce, community health workers, tribal health workforce, school nurses, county judges and other non-traditional responders to plan for, respond to, and recover from disasters—came in.

“We were able to offer a service to the tribes as well as DSHS that served both their needs,” Clendenin said. “I think that is one of the unique things about the expertise the USA Center has, and we are really good at doing community engagement with an educational component. We were able to bring everybody to the table and have really productive facilitated discussions.”

The response from the tribal members who attended was extremely positive, and they are already looking forward to returning for another summit next year and building on these valuable relationships to extend beyond the State of Texas with the United Southern and Eastern Tribes, an organization serving 33 federally recognized tribes from Texas to Maine.

“They feel like they now have somebody who listens, and we have been able to open the door for them to DSHS and some of their resources,” Clendenin said. “They are very appreciative for what our team brings to the table. The tribes also got the chance to speak with each other, which they don’t always get the chance to do since they are so far apart in Texas. They really saw the value in coming together and sharing across tribes, and they want to have another summit next year.”

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