Written by Mialise Carney, COSS Communications Student Assistant
The Creek Fire began on September 4 and has since burned through over 350 thousand acres of land in Fresno and Madera county. With many communities displaced, people from the Fresno area were quick to respond and assist victims. Faculty member Dr. Kenneth Hansen aided victims of the Creek Fire because he wanted to help Native students and their families who were forced to evacuate.
“Our local tribal communities have always shown those of us who are non-California Natives a great deal of hospitality” he said. “I wanted to give back.”
Dr. Hansen began working with Cal-TERRA (California Tribal Emergency Response and Relief Agency) in the spring as a board member. He says Cal-TERRA had connections to folks with the resources, and that it was a perfect opportunity for the organization to take action to help people in need.
“Unfortunately, dealing with catastrophic fires has become a way of life in California, and we all need to be prepared to help out. We can’t pretend like it can’t happen here, because it’s happened everywhere in the state,”Hansen said.
On Friday, September 18, Dr. Hansen along with Fresno State Neum-NASA (Native American Student Association) President Bryce Herrera, a business major, volunteered with a coalition of Native-serving nonprofit organizations and Fresno State volunteers came together at the Fresno American Indian Health Project (FAIHP), located at 1551 E. Shaw Ave, just west of the Fresno State campus. They provided a spaghetti lunch, toiletries, backpacks for students, and other necessities via a drive-through system because of the pandemic. Roughly 400 food boxes from the USDA, as well as several dozen boxes and bags of fresh produce were given away.
About half a dozen tribal communities were forced to evacuate from their land because of the threat of the Creek Fire. The fire has caused extensive damage to the natural ecosystem, people’s homes and property. Dr. Hansen says it was heartbreaking to see the amount of damage done, especially the extreme loss of natural life during the fall.
“Especially here at the time of the fall equinox, we pray for the animals who lost their lives and for healing of the ecosystems,” he says.
Like many who are saddened by these disasters, Dr. Hansen expressed his frustration at the Creek Fire because he says like many other disasters, it is preventable.
“Decision makers refuse to listen to the Native peoples who have inhabited this area for more than 8,000 years,” he says. “State and federal governments have used fire suppression as part of their genocidal campaigns against Native people, to the detriment of the lives and livelihoods of their own descendants.”
Despite these circumstances, Dr. Hansen enjoyed being able to help Native people affected by the fire and he was glad to provide services to them.
“Sharing is an almost universal value among Native peoples. When our people are in trouble, we are obligated to share and give back.”
The Creek Fire is still burning over a month later, with only 60 percent containment. Dr. Hansen says there’s still ways to help such as contributing to the American Red Cross or to the Good Samaritan Fund.