Following President Barack Obama’s signing of the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 on January 30, tribal leaders applauded the bill which puts tribes on equal footing as states when it comes to receiving federal emergency aid.
The act is an amendment to the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 and though overall is directed toward relief of Hurricane Sandy victims, Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Nation in Washington and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians said it will help alleviate inconsistencies in current programs.
“A very memorable example of such an inconsistency for our tribe took place after the severe storm of December 2007,” Sharp said in a Quinault Nation press release. “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. 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.”
That experience became the reason the Quinault Tribe lobbied for an amendment to the Stafford Act giving federally recognized tribes the ability to request emergency relief for their tribal lands.
“This is a good example of the reason we invest time in Washington D.C.,” Sharp said. “It is important to our people and our sovereignty as an Indian nation to strengthen our trust relationship with the federal government.”
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly shared the same sentiments as Sharp in regards to the amendment being an affirmation of tribal sovereignty.
“The Navajo Nation has had a distinct government since before the United States gained its independence from a colonial power. The United States is committed by law and treaty to the self-governance of the Navajo Nation, and working with us on a government-to-government basis. 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 Navajo Nation released statement. “I appreciate the bipartisan team in Congress that approved this bill, and the bold leadership of the Obama Administration and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in endorsing the proposal.”
“We do applaud the President, and Congress for passing this act, and we trust that when we are faced with another emergency, our relationship with FEMA and the rest of the federal government will help assure the safety and well-being of our people,” Sharp said in the release.