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Rocky Boy couple fundraises for families in need on the reservation

A Rocky Boy couple has spent the past week fundraising and buying essentials for families in need on the reservation in preparation for and after the start of the lockdown that began Sunday as a result of a COVID-19 surge.

Arielle Wolf Chief-Sutherland and her husband, Dustynn Sutherland, began by raising $100 for one family, but their efforts became so popular over Facebook and PayPal that they’ve since bought $100 worth of essentials for 22 families on the reservation.

Wolf Chief-Sutherland said they are still accepting donations but don’t have enough to pay for family 23 yet.

These donations came mostly from others living on Rocky Boy, but she said she’s received money from people on other reservations as well including donations specifically for propane which many there use to heat their homes.

She said users on Facebook nominated families they think are having a rough time and would need help during the lockdown.

Unfortunately, there were more families nominated than money that could be effectively divided between them, so the couple used a roulette wheel on Facebook Live to choose families to provide for, she said.

Wolf-Chief Sutherland said it was the only way they could think of to remain fair and eliminate bias from their choices.

“We wish we were able to help every family that was nominated, and we will be donating another $100 on pay day to help another family,” she said.

She said their family knows what it’s like to struggle through financial problems on the reservation, and now that they’ve made it to the other side of those problems they wanted to make sure everyone had what they need.

“Now that we’re doing okay, we want to help somebody, anybody,” she said.

She works full time for KHEW radio on the reservation, and as a regional organizer for Western Native Voice, and her husband is a community organizer for Western Native Voice she said.

Wolf Chief-Sutherland said she wanted to get essentials to people as soon as possible, so she and her husband went into Havre this past Saturday and Sunday to buy things for people and deliver them before the shutdown.

Most of these items were food, but they also bought laundry soap, bleach, disinfectant, toilet paper, paper towels and other items.

She said she originally wanted to make individualized lists for families, but, as the project ballooned, that became impossible to do in the time they needed to do it.

The first day they went to Gary & Leo’s Fresh Foods, they were buying all the items on their own, but on the second day staff helped them out, finding all the things they needed and going into back rooms to find items that hadn’t be stocked yet to make sure the couple got what they needed.

The community has been appreciative of their efforts, Wolf Chief-Sutherland said, and she wasn’t expecting so many in the community to donate.

“The community really came together to do this,” she said.

While she said she wanted to remain positive, poverty that leads to the kind of problem she’s trying to remedy is hardly uncommon on reservations.

“In Indian Country, and all reservations, we have one of the highest rates of poverty,” Wolf Chief-Sutherland said. “And anything we can do to help out our community members in hard and trying times, that is something we want to do.”

She said despite the situation local incident command is helping people on the reservation by getting them things they need as long as they can pay for them.

“There’s security everywhere,” she said, “No one can go anywhere at all, but incident command is helping people get things they need.”

Wolf Chief-Sutherland said there are a lot of people who can’t even afford that, but she encouraged anyone who can to get in touch with incident command to get an application for assistance.

She said she also wanted to thank local Pizza Hut Branch Manager Vanessa Griggs for donating 20 pizzas, as well as the staff at Gary and Leo’s and everyone who donated to the cause.

Wolf Chief-Sutherland said if anyone would still like to donate her PayPal is [email protected], and they will be accepting donations as long as more families need help.


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