You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the town of Peach Springs, Arizona – on the Hualapai Tribe Indian reservation – who Cheyenne Majenty doesn’t know.
Ambling through the small town in the middle of the Arizona desert, not far from the western rim of the Grand Canyon, Cheyenne frequently slows her SUV to wave at friends and relatives. She points out houses of folks she knows; she chats with the hostess at the town’s restaurant. She mingles among tables of diners, asking about family, discussing town politics.
Cheyenne is a member of the Hualapai Tribe and was born and grew up on the reservation. She’s also the youngest member of the tribal council. Considering her investment and familiarity with the town, it’s perhaps no surprise that she helps keep it safe, too – she manages the tribe’s emergency operations.
“I’ve been working in emergency services for about 10 years,” she said. “As a dispatch operator for eight and a firefighter for four of those years as well. It’s my dream job.”
Cheyenne is responsible for ensuring all the tribe’s emergency response services such as police, fire and EMT work together in case of a disaster. While there aren’t hurricanes or tornadoes in the middle of the Arizona desert, Cheyenne still has plenty to contend with.
“We do experience a lot of extreme climate changes,” Cheyenne explains. “That can either be a very hard freeze or extreme heat. And because of our elevation, we do get snow here.”
Weather-related emergencies aren’t the only events Cheyenne handles. She’s called in for civil situations as well – like the time a freight train stalled on the track going through the middle of the town, temporarily cutting off the town’s school and students from their homes.
In those situations, Cheyenne and the town’s emergency responders are often on their own.
“Because of the rurality of our location – we’re 45 minutes from the nearest town – we’re not close to any other entities that can come in and support us in a disaster situation.”
That’s why it’s critical that the tribe has a comprehensive emergency management plan – so all the responding groups know what to do, when, in case of an emergency. Except, that plan doesn’t exist – yet.
“The last emergency operations plan that was worked on was in 1989 and it hasn’t been updated since,” Cheyenne said. “We’ve had attempts to update the plan since then, but nothing has been successful.”
That’s about to change. Working with St. Mary’s Food Bank, a part of the Feeding America network, and the Natives Prepared project, the Hualapai Tribe is receiving support to craft a new emergency response plan.
“Having a good emergency operations plan lays out the roles and duties of the different entities that are going to be assisting or responding, especially at a tribal level,” Cheyenne said. “So, our tribal departments will understand their roles when it comes to an incident.”
“Coming together with an emergency operations plan guideline and utilizing it as a tool is just going to make us better at responding to incidents in the future,” she said.
The focus of the Natives Prepared program is to help Native American tribes such as the Hualapai build capacity so they can respond to disasters that impact their citizens.
“Many Native/Tribal Nations do not have resources or capacity to assist their citizens (in a disaster) and must wait and rely on outside disaster response organizations to bring in resources and support,” explained Mark Ford, Feeding America’s director of Native/Tribal partnerships. “This project allows Native/Tribal leaders to create their own disaster preparedness plans to independently respond.”
In addition to working with tribes on disaster preparedness, Natives Prepared is also supporting food sovereignty.
“With the support from Natives Prepared, we’re bringing community gardens to the Hualapai. There’s a lot of empty lots, so we’re hoping to put gardens on those lots and teach residents how to maintain and grow their own gardens,” Cheyenne said.
According to the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, “Food sovereignty goes well beyond ensuring that people have enough food to meet their physical needs. It asserts that people must reclaim their power in the food system by rebuilding the relationships between people and the land and between food providers and those who eat.”
For the Hualapai, food sovereignty starts with access to fresh, locally-grown food – since access to food can be a challenge in Peach Springs.
“We only have one market and one restaurant,” Cheyenne said. “And the prices can be high. To add on to the challenge of that, the nearest town to the east is 32 miles. And the town to the west is 49 miles. So, access is hard if you don’t have a vehicle.”
Cheyenne is starting with one community garden, near the emergency operations center. She expects to break ground on it in the next few months – with more gardens sprouting throughout the community not long after that.
With a new emergency operations plan in the works, and community gardens almost a reality, the lifelong resident, current tribal councilmember, and emergency operations manager sees the road ahead as challenging, but hopeful.
“I’ve seen a lot of difficulties on our reservation,” she said. “But I’ve also seen that our people are able to endure and that we’re resilient through any situation that we’re given. I’m proud that my people are able to come together during difficult times, that we are stronger together.”