HELENA, Mont. – Citizens Energy Corporation today delivered over $1.6 million in heating assistance grants to 10 Native American tribes in Montana and South Dakota.
The grants, made possible through the generosity of CITGO Petroleum, came through just as federal fuel assistance benefits were running out for thousands of households, averting a heating crisis for tribal families facing winter’s bitter chill.
William Walks Along from the Northern Cheyenne thanked both Citizens and CITGO for the grants while presenting a ceremonial coup stick to CITGO Vice President Rafael Gomez. “Let’s count coup on poverty,” he said as the room burst into applause.
“We are very proud to partner with CITGO to deliver this assistance,” said Brian O’Connor, communications director for Citizens Energy, during the presentation ceremony in the Montana state capital. “It is just tragic that our First Americans are so often the Last Americans when it comes to basic needs like heating and health care.”
Citizens Energy, a Boston-based non-profit founded and led by former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, has been working with CITGO this winter to deliver millions of gallons of discount heating oil to hundreds of thousands of low-income households scattered across 16 states. The direct grants to seven tribes in Montana and three in South Dakota came after CITGO received moving appeals from tribal leaders to supplement federal fuel assistance aid, which provides insufficient resources to keep eligible families warm through the full winter season.
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. It is us who should be thanking you,” said Gomez, adding that the company was providing similar assistance to over 160 other tribes in New York, Maine, Alaska, and Minnesota.
“No one ever gives us money without having strings attached,” said Earl Old Person, chairman of the Blackfeet Tribe. “This is just like Christmas.”
The Montana tribes receiving grants included the Confederated Salish and Kootenai, the Blackfeet, the Northern Cheyenne, the Sioux and Assinoboine of Fort Peck, the Gros Ventre and Assinoboine of Fort Belknap, the Crow, and the Chippewa-Cree of the Rocky Boy Reservation. The South Dakota tribes included the Cheyenne River Sioux, the Crow Creek Sioux, and the Lower Brule Sioux.