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Emergency Management in Tribal Governments

National Congress of American Indians

January 1, 2001

Tribal nations represent a unique and important sector of the US emergency management system. Nineteen of the tribal nations are each larger than the state of Rhode Island, and 12 have a land base larger than the state of Delaware.

Tribal governments are often the only governmental presence in rural and isolated locations, serving as the first, and oftentimes only, law enforcement authority and emergency responders for hundreds of Native and non-Native communities in the United States. As such, tribal governments have broad emergency and first-responder responsibilities.

Tribal nations have been impacted by natural disasters at devastating levels in recent years, and NCAI provided information and support to many communities facing natural disasters. Fires, floods, tornadoes, and oil spills that originated outside tribal boundaries also affected tribal nations, and NCAI members came forward to help both Native and non-Native communities that were impacted.

NCAI continues to advocate for the rights of sovereign tribal nations to seek assistance when a tribe’s internal capacity to deal with an emergency situation is overwhelmed. Currently, only a state governor can request a presidential disaster declaration, and a tribal government has to seek the approval of a governor. This flaw in the Stafford Act creates an unnecessary loss of valuable response time for tribes seeking federal assistance. One of the priority issues in tribal emergency management is to change the existing law that precludes tribal nations from seeking a presidential disaster declaration in the event of a catastrophic natural disaster or manmade incident.

Beyond supporting tribal nations during times of crisis, NCAI focuses on proactively equipping tribal leaders before challenges arise. NCAI coordinates sessions at its conferences to assist leaders in the development and implementation of tribal homeland security and emergency management policies.