On March 1, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians became the first American Indian tribe to receive a Presidential Disaster Declaration under the recently amended Stafford Act when President Barack Obama declared a major disaster exists on the reservation.
The amendment, known as the Sandy Relief Act of 2013, was passed in January and allows federally recognized tribes to apply for disaster relief from the federal government on equal with the state level.
According to a White House press release the “aid to supplement the tribe’s efforts in the area affected by severe storms, flooding, landslides, and mudslides during the period of January 14-17, 2013.”
Upon the announcement W. Craig Fugate, administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Michael Bolch as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.
“We did not necessarily anticipate being the first tribe to receive the declaration. But I think through the recent disaster that we had with all of the flooding, we’re glad that we could set a stage for other tribes throughout the nation. The unfortunate part of this is that we have the damage. The fortunate part of this is that we are helping to set a good precedent for tribes to seek assistance working directly with the President through FEMA. This sets a real good precedent for Indian country,” Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Michell Hicks said in response to receiving the news from FEMA.
The tribe requested the emergency relief on February 14 in response to damaged occurred on the Cherokee Indian Reservation from torrential rainfall in January that left approximately $3 million in damage to homes and public infrastructure according to Cherokee Emergency Management Manager Mollie Grant.
“FEMA will come back to Cherokee and do final damage assessment. The amount of damage initially reported is an estimate. The final assessment will be more accurate and will be the basis of FEMA’s assistance to the tribe. This will also enable us to apply other mitigation funding,” Grant said in a United South and Eastern Tribes press release.
Grant said FEMA is scheduled to be doing final assessment work on the reservation this week.
FEMA said additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the tribe and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.