Indian Legal Services of Oklahoma hosted a Disaster Response and Wills Clinic on August 18 at the Tahlequah Public Library to help answer legal questions, especially in the wake of recent natural disasters.
With its main office in Oklahoma City, OILS is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low-income Native Americans living throughout the state. Staff attorney Brian Candelaria was present at the clinic, which began at 1:30 p.m.
“Today’s outreach clinic is designed to connect citizens of the Cherokee County community, including but not limited to Cherokee Registered Tribal Citizens affected by the May Severe Weather Disaster designated by [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] like DR4657,” he said.
OILS held another clinic Thursday morning at the Adair County Courthouse, where Candelaria said staff helped someone execute a will. He explained why OILS went to Adair County.
“Adair County was one of seven federally recognized disaster counties since the May floods,” Candelaria said.
According to FEMA, this period of severe storms, tornadoes and flooding from May 2-8 was declared a disaster on June 29. Individual assistance has been designated for Adair, Cherokee, Muskogee, Tulsa, Okmulgee, Seminole and Pottawatomie counties.
In a June 30 press release, FEMA said, “Assistance may include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-interest loans to cover losses of uninsured property and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster”.
Candelaria said August 29 is the deadline for those affected to request assistance. OILS has organized disaster response clinics in the area to answer legal questions and take requests for services.
“During the whole month of August, we went out, especially towards these [designated] counties and trying to connect with tribal citizens,” Candelaria said.
Candelaria thinks it’s important to reach people, especially after COVID.
“No one came today, which happens sometimes,” he said.
OILS can help with a variety of legal issues, Candelaria said, but not criminal or specific family law cases.
Staff attorney Kace Rodwell provided examples of what OILS can help, including death records, probates, some guardianship issues, some housing issues, adoptions, Indian child protection cases and representation in tribal courts.
For Oklahomans looking for civil legal information to recover and prepare for disasters, Candelaria pointed to a new website called Oklahoma Disaster Legal Help. This site was made possible through a collaboration between OILS and Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma and is available at www.OklahomaDisasterLegalHelp.org.
Candelaria said individuals should practice preparing.
“Make sure you have your paperwork, your will, your end-of-life paperwork and do it before disaster strikes – on a ‘blue sky’ day,” he said.
More information about Indian Legal Services in Oklahoma is available at www.oilsonline.org.