August 29, 2007
As Hurricane Dean hit Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, health professionals, volunteers, activists, and community leaders gathered at the Minority Women’s Health Summit in Washington, D.C., to focus on health problems that disproportionately affect women. One of the panels, titled “From the Eyes of Women: Disaster Response, Recovery, and Resilience,” was dedicated to giving attention to women who have responded to disaster. The panel was entirely composed of women of color–something you almost never see in Washington.
The panel opened with a prayer in French by Morning Dove Verrett Hopkins, who represented the Houma Nation of American Indians. “The hurricane did not just hit Louisiana,” Morning Dove said as she showed slides of devastated home and lands occupied by Houma people. “It hit everybody, you know?” The audience responded with a resonant, “Mmmm-hm.” She described a life of hardship, where she was forced to attend mission schools and forbidden to speak her native language. Today, despite the fact that the Houma people are recognized as a nation by the state of Louisiana, her tribe still isn’t officially recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Houma people haven’t recovered from Katrina. They are still in mourning in many ways, like so many others from the New Orleans area.
Recent articles in Time and National Geographic (among others) have shown some of the bureaucratic barriers the city faces as it tackles the ongoing reconstruction effort. The storm highlighted how disproportionately the black and poor were affected. Those earning less than 200 percent of the poverty line (about $40,000 for a family of four) made up more than 40 percent of those affected. Of the entire affected population, about 73 percent were African American, according to a congressional research report (PDF). But Morning Dove and her fellow Panelist Tram Nguyen of Boat People SOS, an Alexandria, VA-based group that works with Vietnamese immigrants, represented two groups of people often left out of Katrina stories: the Houma Nation and Vietnamese immigrants.