A employee of the Seminole Tribe's fire rescue team provides fuel to a veterans home in response to Hurricane Irma in Florida. Photo: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Seminole Tribe secures emergency declaration in response to Hurricane Irma

The Seminole Tribe is slowly getting back to normal after its communities were hit by Hurricane Irma earlier this month.

Tribal lands in southern Florida suffered widespread power outages that are gradually being resolved in the wake of the major storm. Several schools, clinics and other operations were shut down and, at one point, the reservation in Hollywood was under a boil water advisory.

But students are heading back to class and patients are once again being served as most tribal programs came back to life on Tuesday. Thanks to an emergency declaration signed by President Donald Trump, the tribe's emergency management division has been assisted by 125 officers from the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal agencies.

“To be able to have the relationship with the federal government to ensure the support and safety of all Seminole Tribe of Florida reservations and our members is a testament to the relationship of two sovereign governments,” Chairman Marcellus Osceola said in a press release on Tuesday.

The September 9 declaration was made possible by a key change in federal law. Under a 2013 amendment to the Stafford Act, tribal governments can request emergency and disaster help directly from the federal government instead of relying on states.

A employee of the Seminole Tribe's fire rescue team hands out supplies in response to Hurricane Irma in Florida. Photo: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Trump's action for the Seminole Tribe was not the first to be made in connection with the law. But it was the first "emergency" declaration -- prior presidential directives for the Navajo Nation in 2013 and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, also in 2013, were "disaster" declarations.

“The president’s fast response to the Seminole Tribe’s request for an emergency declaration was critical for the tribe to receive the assistance it needs to recover from the effects of Hurricane Irma,” said John Tahsuda III, a citizen of the Kiowa Tribe, who came on board as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs earlier this month. “By specifically asking for BIA law enforcement personnel to help relieve the Seminole tribal police officers, who have been on duty for over a week straight, the declaration allows us to move forward quickly to render such assistance and protect lives and property.”

The declaration covers the tribe's six reservations in southern Florida. It allows the tribe to receive direct federal assistance and to recover some of the costs associated with debris removal and emergency protection efforts.

Although tribal families dealt with power outages and outer hardships, the tribe's gaming enterprise was largely spared from any major damage during Hurricane Irma.

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