Albuquerque Journal
Santa Clara Pueblo has been plagued with floods since the Las Conchas fire burned more than 6,000 acres in 2011.

6 Tribes That Took Advantage of Amendment for FEMA Relief in 2013

Brian Daffron

Today’s technology can track tornadoes and snowstorms, hurricanes and rainstorms. Yet, technology cannot predict how Mother Nature will impact a community or how much destruction will take place. In many cases, humanity can only mathematically measure the damage—such as an EF scale for tornadoes—and pick up the pieces, praying nothing else happens in the near future.

For reservations and tribal communities, natural disasters can be even more severe. Closely knit communities can be miles and days from any help from the Red Cross or other groups. Yet, they rely on each other to get through the physical and emotional scars.

This year, a change in the Stafford Act (Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 amendment) enabled tribes to apply directly to FEMA for emergency assistance. One of the first parts of this process begins when a tribal community is declared a federal disaster area by President Barack Obama. Before this year, tribes had to rely on the states to get the disaster declaration. Although tribes still have the option of getting FEMA help through the states, six tribes have used the Stafford Act changes in 2013 so that their people and tribal land can go through the rebuilding process and not rely on the state government that surrounds them.

RELATED: Tribes Applaud Sandy Recovery Improvement Act

Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation

Disaster Incident: Severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides

Dates of Disaster: January 14-17 2013

Federal Disaster Declaration: March 1, 2013

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation was the first tribe to apply directly for federal disaster assistance. With the January storms, an estimated 300 tribal members were affected, with final disaster impact totaling $5.4 million.

“It’s a really big accomplishment for the Native American community,” said Mollie Grant, the Emergency Management program manager for Eastern Cherokee Nation. “I think it’s an honor, because we’re the first to lead the other tribes.”

Grant said the tribe had many procedural plans in place to begin this process, even before the Stafford Act changes. This included a strong relationship with the state of North Carolina and with FEMA Region 4. ECN also had an emergency management plan, an SOP (standard operation procedure), an SOG (standard operation guidelines), and an established emergency management center. One thing that the ECN did not have, said Grant, was an administration plan, which was written by the time FEMA arrived.

The timeline of the application process began when the request letter was sent on February 14. Within two days of the disaster area declaration on March 1, FEMA arrived to begin assistance, setting up a “Green Hornet” mobile command center and bringing up to 60 FEMA staff members.

Grant’s advice to other tribes applying directly for FEMA assistance is to have large enough accommodations for FEMA staff members. Grant also said that FEMA engineers aren’t always aware of a tribe’s specific geographical needs and need to be advised in this aspect of the rebuilding process.

RELATED: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians First to Receive Disaster Aid Under Amended Law

Navajo Nation

Disaster Incident: Severe Freeze

Dates of Disaster: December 15, 2012-January 21, 2013

Federal Disaster Declaration: March 5, 2013

The signing of the agreement between the Navajo Nation and FEMA was the first enactment of the Stafford Act regulation changes west of the Mississippi River. During the winter freeze, more than 3,000 homes were lost due to frozen water pipes. Lows during this freeze included 20 below zero, with highs not making it above freezing. According to an Indian Country Today Media Network article posted on March 4, 2013, damages were estimated at close to $1 billion.

"We are thankful that we are taking a step to further strengthen our sovereignty as the Navajo Nation,” said Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly in a release issued by FEMA. “This agreement recognizes the government to government relationship we have with the federal government. We look forward to working together to help our people.”

RELATED: Navajo Nation Thawing Out From Devastating Winter

Spirit Lake Reservation

Disaster Incident: Severe Storms and Flooding

Dates of Disaster: April 22-May 16, 2013

Federal Disaster Declaration: May 29, 2013

The Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota was included into a disaster declaration issued by Obama for 16 counties throughout the state to repair or replacement facilities damaged by major flooding from storms in April and May.

RELATED: President Obama Signs FEMA Disaster Declaration for North Dakota Flooding

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

Disaster Incident: Severe Storms and Flooding

Dates of Disaster: May 25-June 1 2013

Federal Disaster Declaration: June 25, 2013

According to a preliminary assessment report conducted by both the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and FEMA, the primary amount of damage was to roads and bridges on the reservation, with estimated damage at nearly $1.3 million. The source of the damage included not only by storms and flooding, but also by a tornado that occurred on the South Dakota side of the reservation.

Contact was made by ICTMN to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe regarding current restoration efforts, but calls were not returned by press time. Statements from the tribe were not included in releases issued by FEMA.

RELATED: Standing Rock Sioux to Receive Disaster Relief Aid

Karuk Tribe

Disaster Incident: Wildfire

Dates of Disaster: July 29-August 2, 2013

Federal Disaster Declaration: August 29, 2013

The Karuk Tribe of California underwent wildfire damage affecting 32 tribal housing residents, 85 acres of tribal land and damage exceeding $1 million, according to tribal self-governance coordinator Jaclyn Goodwin.

Assistance with the disaster declaration came out of the FEMA regional office in San Francisco. "They guided us through all the necessary paperwork and all the back-up documentation that we needed to provide them," said Goodwin.

Rebuilding efforts at press time include restoring a watershed area damaged in the wildfires. Goodwin said that FEMA is "committing quite a few hours to the project, making sure that all the correct paperwork is done and helping with the planning process."

RELATED: President Obama Declares Disaster Exists for the Karuk Tribe

Santa Clara Pueblo

Disaster Incident: Severe Storms and Flooding

Dates of Disaster: July 19-21, 2013 and September 13-16, 2013

Federal Disaster Declaration: September 27, 2013 and October 24, 2013

Santa Clara Pueblo holds a dual distinction in the recent history of tribes applying directly for federal assistance. Not only are they the first tribe in FEMA Region 6 to apply directly for disaster assistance, but they are the first tribe to apply twice for FEMA assistance—in the same year, to note.

“Allowing us direct access to FEMA funding will make a huge difference towards our cleanup efforts in Santa Clara Canyon,” said John Shije, Santa Clara Lt. Governor in a release issued by the tribe.

According to the statement, heavy rains caused “automobile-sized boulders, trees and sediment down Santa Clara Canyon, into Santa Clara Creek and into the inhabited areas of Santa Clara causing flood damage.”

RELATED: Second FEMA Disaster Declaration for Flooded Santa Clara Pueblo in a Month

Sources: Mollie Grant, Eastern Cherokee Nation; Jaclyn Goodwin, Karuk Tribe; Edward Calabaza, Santa Clara Pueblo;;


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