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Tribes hail passage of bill with disaster declaration provision

Tribes across the nation are welcoming a new law that allows them to request disaster declarations directly from the federal government.

Under the Stafford Act, only states can request declarations. H.R.152, which was supported by the Obama administration, amends the law to recognize tribal sovereignty.

“We should not be treated as third world countries,” Santa Clara Pueblo Gov. Walter Dasheno, whose tribe has suffered through a number of disasters in recent years, told the Associated Press. “We should be there at the table, sitting across from the president, addressing our needs and concerns. I think we’ve been on the back burner for a number of years.”

Reservations often fall in multiple counties and, in some cases, in more than one state. The change in law should ensure tribes are treated more consistently.

“The Quinault Reservation experienced an eight-day power and water outage. Because we didn't have authority to declare a natural disaster, services on our reservation were offered inconsistently," observed President Fawn Sharp of the Quinault Nation in Washington. "Citizens in Queets, which is in Jefferson County, were treated differently than our citizens in Taholah and Amanda Park, in Grays Harbor County. One was declared a disaster, but not the other.”

The Navajo Nation typically has to deal with three state governments when disasters strike. The tribe now stands on better footing, President Ben Shelly said.

"The passage of this bill is a welcoming sign of the blossoming recognition nationally of the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation as a co-equal government within the United States," Shelly said in a press release.

The tribal provisions are found in Section 1110 of the bill, which provides $50 billion for recovery efforts related to Hurricane Sandy. Obama signed it into law on Tuesday.

"FEMA has strong, long-standing relationships with tribal governments, and they are essential members of the emergency management team. We commend the efforts of members of Congress, tribal leadership and their organizations, the Department of Homeland Security, and the President who have made this change a reality," Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said in a press release.

Get the Story:
New law allows American Indian tribes to seek direct federal aid after natural disasters (AP 1/13)

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Congress passes bill with tribal disaster declaration section (1/29)

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