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DHS Secretary Napolitano supports tribal disaster requests

Tribes should be treated like state governments in requesting disaster declarations, Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday.

Under the Stafford Act, only states can request emergency declarations. The Obama administration wants to amend the law to put tribes on the same level.

"We believe that tribal governments should be able to make requests directly to the president for federal emergencies," Napolitano said to applause at NCAI's 2012 executive council winter session in Washington, D.C.

Craig Fugate, the administrator of Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is part of DHS, echoed that message. He said tribal sovereignty should be recognized in federal law.

“American Indians and Alaskan Natives are an essential part of the emergency management team," Fugate said at NCAI. "Amending the law would enhance FEMA’s working relationship with tribal governments and improve emergency and disaster responsiveness throughout Indian Country.”

Napolitano and Fugate both stressed the important role tribes play in emergency preparedness and in protecting the nation's borders and waterways. DHS just published a Tribal Resource Guide and FEMA has included Indian Country in its Ready Campaign.

"At the department, we always say homeland security begins with hometown security," Napolitano observed. "It begins with our tribal partners."

DHS announced its tribal consultation plan in March 2010. FEMA recently appointed Richard Flores as the full-time Special Advisor on National Tribal Affairs to work directly with tribal governments.

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FEMA supports bill for tribes to request disaster declarations (12/7)

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