FEMA Announces New Strategy for Engaging Native American Tribes – KSAT San Antonio

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has developed a new strategy to better deal with hundreds of Native American tribes as they grapple with climate-related disasters, the agency announced Thursday.

FEMA will include 574 federally recognized tribal nations in discussions about potential future dangers from climate change. It allocated $50 million in grants to tribes seeking ways to ease the burdens related to severe weather. More training will be provided to tribal governments on how to navigate applying for FEMA funding. The new plan calls for tribal relations officials to submit an annual report to FEMA leaders on how prepared the tribes are.

“We see communities across the country facing increasing threats as a result of climate change,” Dean Cresswell, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in a conference call with the media. “What we want to do with this strategy is make sure that we can reach out to the tribal nations and help them to Understand what the potential future threats will be.”

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In recent years, tribal and indigenous communities have faced turmoil in dealing with changing sea levels as well as increased floods and wildfires. Tribal citizens have lost their homes or are living in homes that need to be resettled due to coastal erosion. Some are unable to maintain cultural traditions such as hunting and fishing due to climate-related drought.

Historically, tribes have had to make do with no one to guide them, said Linda Zambrano, executive director of the Washington-based National Tribal Emergency Management Board in Snohomish. For example, more than 200 Native Alaskan villages had to share a single FEMA tribal contact. Or different tribes were told different things. Therefore, nonprofits like the council have tried to fill in the gaps with their own training, she said.

“The way I refer to people is that they built the highway, but they never built the slopes,” Zambrano said. “If FEMA is now going to build ramps, that would be a good thing. But there has to be very clear policy, procedures and guidance – and it has to be consistent.”

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She added that tribes have historically been disproportionately affected by natural disasters because they are located in high-risk areas and have little infrastructure. They will just continue to be vulnerable.

Only in 2013 under the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act did federally recognized tribes gain the ability to directly request emergency and disaster declarations. Previously, they had to apply for disaster financing through the states.

The new strategy emphasizes making sure tribes know each FEMA scholarship program and how to apply for it. The hope is that this will give them a fair chance of getting funding. The agency hopes to find ways to overcome barriers such as sharing the cost of FEMA, the portion of disaster funding or a project that will be covered by the federal government. In some cases, the tribes simply could not pay their share.

“In those areas where we can’t, what we want to do is be able to work with the tribes to help them find other sources of funding to help them put together the different sources of funding that might be out there,” Cresswell said.

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However, FEMA’s new strategy for engaging indigenous tribes appears to be specifically targeting those with federal recognition. This seems to exclude tribes that are only or not recognized by the state. In a place like Louisiana, this nuance can alienate many Native Americans Most affected by climate change.

When Hurricane Ida came ashore in 2021, it devastated much of southeastern Louisiana that had been home to Native Americans for centuries. As the climate changes, hurricanes are expected to get stronger and wetter. But the Ida hardest-hit tribes say the lack of federal recognition has hampered their ability to prepare for and recover from storms.

Cherie Matherne is the Cultural Heritage and Resilience Coordinator for the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe. On hearing about the FEMA announcement, she said she wishes the changes would also apply to tribes without federal recognition like hers.

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“It’s an oversight if they don’t work with state-recognised tribes,” said Matherne, who lives in a trailer next to her wrecked home in southeastern Louisiana. “If there are grants for tribal states and tribal peoples, that would be very useful information for people to learn.”

Agency officials said FEMA will continue to work with state and local governments to ensure that state-recognized tribes receive assistance.

Another change under the new strategy is for more FEMA staff to meet for the tribes on their land, a request the agency has received from multiple tribes. This will include anything from personal technical assistance in small rural communities to appearances at large national or regional tribal events.

This focus on regular interactions on tribal lands is a tremendous development, said Bill Oberle, co-founder of the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals at Northern Arizona University. More intimate discussions such as workshops, round tables and webinars are considered “very important to tribes”.

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Sending a notice and saying ‘We’d like your response’ is one thing, Oberle said, ‘Some of these tribes are small but have very serious needs. FEMA can certainly appreciate that. “

In addition to making more money available to tribes, FEMA could also help by providing things like technical support as tribes prepare for and adapt to climate change, Oberle said.

Payment will be made to ensure that all tribes fully understand how to access FEMA assistance or other relevant grants through webinars, tribal consultations or regular meetings with FEMA regional staff.

Agency personnel will also receive training, learning a historical and legal overview of tribal sovereignty and cultural sensitivities.

Zambrano, of the National Tribal Emergency Management Council, hopes this will lead to every tribal country receiving funding for an emergency management program.

“Our tribal country is 30 years behind in developing emergency management programs,” she said. “No one is better than the people who live there in recognizing, mitigating, preparing for and responding to a disaster in the Indian country.”

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Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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Terry Tang is a member of the Race and Ethnicity staff at The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ttangAP

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.


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