ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – After angry waves eat away a coastline, a flood inundates riverside buildings, or an avalanche or a landslide buries or cuts off a community, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is usually there to help.
However, that is not necessarily the case for Alaska Native tribes, who according to the agency’s administrator Deanne Criswell, have been largely underserved through the years.
Data from the National Congress of American Indians estimated that out of disaster recovery grants awarded in one year, the average native tribe received an amount nearly nine times less than other segments of the U.S. population. Though access to disaster assistance funding has improved over the past decade, FEMA hopes its first-ever National Tribal Strategy will make up for lost time, and then some.
“We’ve got to make our programs accessible to the tribal nations, so that they can use them and make it and make it usable for them to have the outcomes which they need,” FEMA Region10 Regional Administrator Willie G. Nunn said. “Not just a response side to those floods, landslides, it’s that mitigation and preparedness that’s going to help response and transition to recovery and long term recovery go a lot better.”
That’s why FEMA is investing in and building stronger relationships with the country’s native tribes.
“It’s about equity. It’s about diversity, equity, and access and meeting what people where they are, especially to our tribes, because they have specific resource needs. They have specific needs for development.” Nunn added.
This is something FEMA has come to learn from painful mistakes and criticisms over the agency’s 43-year history.
As a result of consultations with various tribes early in 2022, Nunn said the following questions kept coming up for the agency.
“How are we going to work together to attack climate change to attack how are we going to respond to disasters better, which is going to come through preparedness and mitigation,” Nunn asked. “And how we’re going to continue to work so we meet people and meet the tribal nations where they are, and making sure that we’re not, we’re not having to jump, jump through hoops.”
The agency’s first-ever National Tribal Strategy seeks to make significant progress in these areas over the next four years by committing to increased in-person and virtual meetings to provide training on programs and grants specific to tribes. FEMA said it will identify how the application process can be less time-consuming for tribal employees, many of whom serve more than one role within their community.
As such, FEMA staff will be spending more time communicating with tribal leaders, both in person and virtually, on a much more frequent and consistent basis.
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