By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Federally-recognized tribes are sovereign. A proposed change to federal law would help strengthen tribe’s government-to-government relationship with the federal government.
President Obama, along with several federal agencies, is proposing a change to the Stafford Act that would make it allowable for tribes to apply for disaster relief funds directly to him.
State governors are the only ones currently allowed to make such claims for relief funds. FEMA officials agree with the change.
“Consistent with our strong government-to-government relationship, FEMA and the administration support amending the Stafford Act to allow federally recognized tribal governments to make a request directly to the president for a federal emergency or disaster declaration,” said FEMA administrator Craig Fugate. “Tribal members are an essential part of the emergency management team, and amending the law would enhance FEMA’s working relationship with tribal governments and improve emergency and disaster responsiveness throughout Indian Country.”
Gary R. Ledford, EBCI director of public safety, commented, “This is a positive step forward on many fronts. In 2009, the President mandated that all federal programs develop techniques and procedures that, when implemented, would strengthen the nation-to-nation relationships between the U.S. government and Indian Country. DHS and FEMA specifically are making those moves that go a very long way in satisfying that mandate.”
He continued, “Two years ago, during the initial session of the Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program grant scoring, this was one of the key issues that we discussed and highlighted as something that was essential to Indian Country – a direct working relationship with DHS/FEMA and a direct route for requesting support from them. Not only is this announcement and the associated legislation to accomplish this an endorsement of our sovereignty, but it will ultimately streamline and demystify the process for requesting aid in times of crisis and recovery. I, personally, want to thank the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in DHS for listening to our suggestions and moving to make it happen.”
Jefferson Keel, NCAI president, is for the measure as well, “Just like states, when disaster strikes, tribal nations must act swiftly to respond to, protect and secure lives, infrastructure, and public health. We call on Congress to fix the Stafford Act and incorporate the sovereign status of tribal nations in this important law. These changes will also provide tribes and states critical flexibility in responding to catastrophic events when communities need it most.”
Information from FEMA states that it has been working on this issue for the past year. “FEMA has designated tribal liaisons in each of our ten regional offices, and hired an attorney who is educated, trained, and experienced in federal Indian law and emergency management to better support tribes before, during and after an emergency or disaster strikes,” FEMA officials said in a statement.