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'I Want To Make Sure That My Community Is Informed' - Serving Big Sandy Rancheria In A Fire

Kerry Klein
Valley Public Radio
Big Sandy Rancheria Chairperson Elizabeth Kipp stands outside the Red Cross evacuation center in Fresno County at the Clovis North Educational Center. She's staying in a home with family, but was at the center to check in with other tribe members.

With the devastation caused by the Creek Fire, the chairperson of Big Sandy Rancheria calls herself a messenger for her community. So far, most of the 170-member tribe have evacuated.

Elizabeth Kipp is the Auberry tribe’s chairperson. Since evacuating to Fresno, she’s made multiple trips back up Highway 168 to attend early morning logistics meetings with CalFire and sheriff’s deputies.

“I’m up at 5 o’clock in the morning, I go to the briefing up at Sierra High School, I get there about 6:30,” Kipp explains. “Having to drive up there for the briefings and stuff I mean, to me, I may be tired, but it's well worth it because I want to make sure that my community is informed,” says Kipp.

She posts on social media and everyone has her phone number. At the morning meetings, Kipp says she works with a tribal relations officer to make sure culturally sensitive areas aren’t disrupted.

“They always make a mention to respect the cultural resources and the sensitive areas of the tribes, and that is said every morning at every briefing,” Kipp says.

The rancheria has used fire in the past to keep the forest healthy. Kipp says they rely on acorns for some food and grasses for traditional basket material. But the Creek Fire is not the same.

“The whole footprint of the Sierra National Forest is just being devastated,” says Kipp. “It's really sad, but this one fire, it's affecting all tribes of our Central Valley.”

Kipp says after this fire, it will take years for the forest to return to full health.

Laura Tsutsui was a reporter and producer for Valley Public Radio. She joined the station in 2017 as a news intern, and later worked as a production assistant and weekend host. Laura covered local issues ranging from politics to housing, and produced the weekly news program Valley Edition. She left the station in November 2020.
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