2004 Homeland Security Report Card: Native American Response

This month, two linked Native American totempoles will be delivered to the Pentagon. One will be called Freedom,the other Liberty. They’re the third in a set of traditional polescreated by the artisans of the Lummi Nation, a Native American tribe inWashington state.

The traditional poles were the work of alineal descendant of Chief Seattle, Jewell Praying Wolf James, who,early in July 2002, began carving a “healing pole,” a totem intended toput forward a sense of healing and harmony in the wake of Sept. 11,2001. That pole was placed in Arrow Park in Sterling Forest, one hournorth of Manhattan. Sterling Forest is the sister forest of ArlechoCreek Forest, north of Seattle.
While transporting the pole to New York, theLummis made the acquaintance of a first responder in Ohio, and fromthis meeting came the inspiration for a second pole, an “honoring pole”that was placed in Shanksville, Pa., site of the crash of Flight 93.
The Freedom and Liberty poles will be the last in the series, placed on Pentagon grounds to honor those who died there.
The poles were a magnanimous and touchinggesture for all Americans. But for the Lummi Nation, homeland securitygoes well beyond gestures to the substance of public safety—and thetribe’s efforts illustrate the role that Native Americans are taking inhomeland security.
Concrete concerns
The Lummi Nation reservation sits on alow-lying peninsula in the northwest corner of the state of Washington,extending between Bellingham Bay on the eastand the Georgia Strait.Since the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, the Lummi Nation has beenrecognized as a self-governing tribe. Today, 4,193 people live on thereservation, of whom 2,346 are Native Americans, according to the 2000census.
The casual observer might think that homelandsecurity and the terrorist threat wouldn’t extend out to this area, butwhen the Lummi leadership looks over its 19,500 acres (12,500 acres ofwhich are inhabited, and 7,000 of which are tidewater), they see landsusceptible to flooding that lies just south of industrial areas thatthreaten it with hazardous-material spills.
Although the reservation lies completelywithin Washington state, the Lummi leadership had little desire todepend entirely on the state for first-response capabilities. To remedythis, they submitted a multi-hazard mitigation plan to the FederalEmergency Management Agency (FEMA) in March.
FEMA approved the plan in June, making it thefirst plan in the country to meet federal requirements mandated by theDisaster Mitigation Act of 2000.
“This plan is really good because it helps usexercise our sovereign rights without going to the state,” Lummi NationCouncilman Merle Jefferson told HSToday. “Before we had the plan here, we had to go to the state. This has given us more of a step to our own sovereignty.”
The leadership also plans to file anemergency-preparedness plan for dealing with manmade or naturaldisasters, added Jeremy Friedmund, water resource manager of the LummiIndian Business Council (LIBC), the tribe’s governing body.
“With the approval of this multi-hazardmitigation plan, our nation is eligible to apply for funding under theDepartment of Homeland Security’s pre-disaster mitigation program,”Friedmund said. “You have to have an approved multi-hazard mitigationplan.”
Local yet sovereign
The Department of Interior officiallyrecognizes 562 Native American tribes, which have a total population ofabout 1.7 million people living on more than 55 million acres of landheld in trust by the United States. The Department of Homeland Security(DHS) views the tribes as local governments, Dr. Joseph Hesbrook, FEMAnational tribal liaison, told HSToday.
“The Stafford Act, which is the act that FEMAoperates under and gives us the power to do what we do, allows only thegovernor of the state to ask for an emergency declaration,” Hesbrooksaid. However, tribes do have the ability to act as independentgovernments once the president signs an emergency declaration made by astate governor.
Once a declaration is made, tribes have achoice, Hesbrook said. “The tribes up to that point are still subjectto the state. Once that declaration is made, then FEMA can dealdirectly with the tribes or the tribes can ask that they be subject tothe state and deal with the state, who deals with FEMA.”
Both approaches have advantages anddisadvantages, Hesbrook noted. Any tribe with approvedemergency-management plans can communicate with the federal governmenton a government-to-government basis.
“The tribe gets taken care of as quickly, ifnot quicker, than most other entities or communities that are beingdealt with,” Hesbrook said.
On the flip side, the tribe is thenresponsible for its share of any disaster relief funds. With the hazardplan, the federal government provides only 75 percent of the fundsrequired for emergency management, Hesbrook said. That leaves the triberesponsible for the remaining 25 percent.
“Many tribes, unfortunately, do not have that25 percent,” Hesbrook said. “If you are looking at a million dollars,$5 million, or $10 million, 25 percent of that amount of money issignificant, and many tribes are unable to handle the financialrequirements that follow. Many of them allow themselves to go under andbecome a part of the state’s workings in that sense.”
When a tribe opts to work as part of the state, the state pays the 25 percent share of the funds.
FEMA worked throughout the latter half of the1990s to develop an Indian relations policy, careful tonavigatepresidential guidelines and directives as well as applicable laws onNative Americans. The policy was completed in 1999.
“We worked to make sure that tribes weretreated as sovereign nations in any and every respect that we could,”Hesbrook said. “The only thing that would prevent us from doing thatwould be the Stafford Act.”
Tribal emergency management survey
In October 2002, FEMA published a studytitled Report on Participation and Cost -Share Capability of IndianTribes in Emergency Management Programs.
The report resulted from a survey of 579state and federally recognized tribes and emergency management agenciesin all 50 states. Many of the tribes surveyed indicated that they hadconcerns about participating in cost-sharing programs. Many of thestates expressed the desire for greater emergency-management funds fromFEMA, partly to help pay for disasters that could occur on tribal lands.
In addition, “one obstacle to tribalcost-sharing capabilities is an absence of certain financial managementsystem components that are required to track federal money andcost-share disbursements,” the report noted.
Some tribal responses to the survey suggestedthat the status of the tribes under the Stafford Act be reviewed, sincethey expressed a desire to have equal status to states in declaringemergencies.
Both tribes and states “expressed frustrationwith the Tribes’ complicated legal situation,” the report said. “Infact, when asked to identify the most significant hurdle impedingtribal participation in emergency-management programs, states cited theissue of tribal sovereignty as it relates to federal, state and localprovisions governing these initiatives, highlighted by 82 percent ofstate respondents.”
The report noted that 60 percent of alltribes surveyed had experienced a disaster on their lands within thepast decade. A presidential declaration came in only 20 percent ofthese cases, the report found.
Of the tribes surveyed, 39 percent reportedthat they possessed an emergency operations plan and another 46 percentsaid they were in the process of developing or updating one. However,many of the tribes lacked a consistent leading agent or organizationfor disaster response. The survey found that no lead organization wasdesignated for emergency management 25 percent of the time.
Hesbrook noted that the Lummi Nationmulti-hazard mitigation plan is useful because it demonstrates planningseparate from the state. The Lummi now have the ability to share theirplan with the state and others, he added, saying cooperation is key tosurviving both natural and manmade disasters.
The Lummi Nation example
The Lummi Nation has in fact receivedinquiries about its multi-hazard mitigation plan from other tribes, andthe state of Washington has shared the plan with those who request it,Friedmund said.
Jefferson feels the importance of an approvedplan is that it grants the tribe the ability to deal directly with DHSrather than going through the state, similar to the way it is approvedto conduct business directly with the Department of Interior ratherthan through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
“It is similar to a self-government plan thatwe have with BIA,” he said. “We are a self-governed tribe, so we kindof cut out the BIA. We go directly to Interior. This is the same kindof ground here. We don’t have to go through the state, we go directlyto the federal government.”
Lummi Nation policies specifically call forcooperation with surrounding jurisdictions, as well as federal andstate agencies—something that FEMA’s Hesbrook says is criticallyimportant to any community. The Lummi multi-hazard plan, a copy ofwhich was obtained by HSToday, highlights the operations of theNation’s first responders.
The tribe staffs three fire districts, mostlywith volunteers, for fire-protection and medical-aid services. One ofthe districts employs four full-time firefighters, including a firechief, during the day, but the volunteers staff the rest remainingshifts.
The Lummi Nation maintains a good workingrelationship with surrounding fire districts outside of itsjurisdiction. The multi-hazard plan notes that “LIBC provided acommunity contribution of $21,000” to one neighboring district “thatwas used to replace aging equipment.”
In addition, the tribe has establishedindependent relationships with federal law-enforcement authorities.“The Lummi Law and Order Department provides public safety protectionthroughout the reservation and works with the FBI, the Whatcom CountySheriff’s Department and other agencies,” according to the plan.
The Lummi Law and Order Department employs 14police officers, all of whom are certified by the state of Washingtonand the BIA.
“Lummi Law and Order, in cooperation with theWhatcom County Division of Emergency Management (in the countysheriff’s department) and local fire and police agencies, is trainedand prepared to respond to minor spills or releases of some hazardousmaterials,” according to the Lummi Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan.
Should a major hazardous-material spill occuron the reservation, the tribe would call upon the EnvironmentalProtection Agency (EPA) and local industry to help clean up the spill,the plan continues. The Lummi Water Resources Division is developing amore specific Spill Prevention and Response Plan to submit to FEMAlater this year.
“We deal directly with the federal governmenton emergencies already in terms of capacity building and communicationsequipment for example,” Friedmund said. “Other stuff could come out ofthat program,” which is being completed under the direction of thetribe’s safety officer.
“The plan increases the tribal sovereignty,”Friedmund emphasized. “That’s an important point in Indian country.That’s not an issue necessarily for states, but it is certainly fortribal governments.
“The overall goal is to create ahazard-resistant community,” he added. “FEMA’s technical and financialsupport has been necessary to get the plan into action.” HST
(Visited 24 times, 1 visits today)

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

Leave a Reply