NCAI Commends FEMA Support for Direct Authority of Tribal Governments to Apply for Presidential Disaster Declaration

Published on Dec 07, 2011

 Updates to Stafford Act would recognize tribal sovereignty and create flexibility for tribes and states when responding to emergency and disaster events

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) hailed today’s announcement by the Obama Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) in support of a change to the Stafford Act to give federally recognized tribal governments the authority to make disaster declaration requests directly to the President of the United States. The Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act currently allows only states, through a governor, to make these requests to the president.

“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,” said Jefferson Keel, President of NCAI, the country’s oldest and largest American Indian and Alaska Native advocacy organization. “The support of the Administration and FEMA for a legislative change recognizes not only the sovereignty of tribal nations, but also acknowledges the critical role tribes play in the network of emergency response and disaster relief at the local and national level.”

Tribal nations represent a unique and important sector of the United States homeland security and emergency management system. Nineteen tribal nations are each larger than the state of Rhode Island and twelve have a land base larger than the state of Delaware. Last year alone, tribes experienced major catastrophic events tied to blizzards, floods, fires, and manmade events resulting in multi-million dollar losses in tribal government infrastructure, and personal property.  

In the event of a catastrophic natural disaster or manmade incident, the Stafford Act currently creates an unnecessary loss of valuable response time in seeking federal assistance. Tribal governments are currently required to seek a state governor’s approval for a federal disaster declaration, delaying response times, and sometimes receiving no response at all. As harsh winters descend upon North America, the US Congress is reviewing various changes to the Stafford Act and inaction will leave both tribes and states without the proper tools and mechanisms to respond to major disaster events. 



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