Letter to Chairmen FEMA Supports Tribal Governments

Main Content

June 11, 2012

The Honorable Joseph Lieberman
Senate Committee on Homeland Security
& Governmental Affairs
340 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Susan Collins
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Homeland Security &
Governmental Affairs
340 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Lieberman and Ranking Member Collins:

On behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security, I am writing to offer support for S. 2283 as introduced in the U.S. Senate, which would amend the Stafford Act in recognition of tribal sovereignty. We note that parallel provisions appear in Section 210 of H.R. 2903, the FEMA Reauthorization Act, as passed out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on March 8, 2012. Currently, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) classifies Indian tribes as “local governments” and deprives Indian tribal governments of the right to request emergency or major disaster declarations directly from the President. Instead, tribes may only obtain Federal disaster assistance if the governor of the state in which they are located seeks and obtains from the President a Stafford Act declaration applicable to that state.

The Stafford Act’s classification of tribes as “local governments” is anachronistic and inconsistent with the United States’ unique legal and political relationship with Indian tribal governments, established through and confirmed by the Constitution of the United States, treaties, statutes, executive orders, and judicial decisions. It can also interfere in the relationship between FEMA and the tribes, and impede the delivery of Federal disaster assistance to tribal communities in need. Consistent with the government-to-government relationship established by law, we strongly believe that a Federally recognized tribe should have the same access to seek Federal response and recovery support for an emergency or major disaster within its jurisdiction as a state does.

FEMA supports amending the Stafford Act to ensure Indian tribal governments are not dependent upon states to request and receive Federal disaster assistance. Consequently, FEMA supports legislative efforts that would authorize Federally recognized tribal governments to make requests directly to the President for Stafford Act declarations. Influential intertribal organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET), and the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes (MAST) also support such an amendment to the Stafford Act and have passed resolutions to that effect.

We believe the provisions of these bills addressing tribal sovereignty would:

  • Properly acknowledge the sovereignty of Federally recognized Indian tribes and the trust responsibility of the United States;
  • Enhance the preparedness of Indian tribal governments and FEMA’s working relationship with those governments;
  • Allow consideration for a Stafford Act declaration based on impacts within the Indian tribal government’s jurisdiction, regardless of the level of impact to the state(s) in which the tribe is located;
  • Eliminate hardships some tribal governments experience because of legal or other impediments that inhibit tribal governments from going through the state to obtain Federal disaster assistance;
  • Provide fair and consistent consideration for assistance across tribal nations, including those Indian tribes where geographic boundaries cross multiple states.

Indian tribal governments and communities are essential parts of our nation’s emergency management team and FEMA strongly supports efforts consistent with our government-to-government relationship to provide Indian tribal governments with the opportunity for direct access to Federal disaster assistance programs.  Accordingly, FEMA recommends Congress take swift action to pass S. 2283 or comparable provisions in other legislative vehicles. If Congress passes and the President signs such legislation into law, FEMA is committed to the prompt and collaborative development of appropriate regulations and policies for implementation.


W. Craig Fugate
Federal Emergency Management Agency

The Honorable Jon Tester
The Honorable John L. Mica
The Honorable Nick J. Rahall II

Last Updated: 
07/24/2012 - 07:52