ATLANTA – One year ago, President Obama issued major disaster declaration 4103 to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides that occurred Jan. 14-17. The March 1 declaration was the sixth major disaster declaration the president had signed in 2013, but, this declaration was unique. It was the first time a tribal nation had received a direct disaster declaration, rather than as a part of a state declaration.
The United States Congress passed the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act in late Jan. 2013, and language in that act allowed federally recognized tribes to request disasters directly. Prior to that, only governors and U.S. territorial leaders could make such a request to the President. With the passage of the act, tribes could seek a declaration as an independent sovereign nation.
The very day the House of Representatives was voting to pass the act, heavy rain was falling in western North Carolina. Flooding occurred and with it, damaging landslides and mudslides in tribal lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. After conducting preliminary damage assessments on Feb. 7, Principal Chief Michell Hicks sent a request letter to FEMA’s regional office in Atlanta asking for aid. Two weeks later, the historic first declaration for a tribal nation was issued as DR-4103-EBCI.
Subsequent tribal declarations were granted in 2013, making a total of four sovereign nations receiving this direct assistance. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will always remain the tribe that had the first historical designation.
“Effective emergency management requires a team – and we’re proud to have joined with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in the very first tribal declaration,” said Phil May, regional administrator. “This historic operation recognizes the vital importance of tribal nations as partners in disaster response and recovery.”
As of Feb. 27, FEMA has provided nearly $4 million toward the tribe’s recovery. This figure represents funding for 59 project worksheets of the 67 project worksheets written. FEMA pays for 90 percent of the recovery costs, with the other 10 percent coming from the tribe. Recovery funding includes money for debris removal, actions taken by the tribe before, during, and after the disaster to save lives, protect public health and safety, and prevent damage to improved public and private property, as well as repairs to roads and bridges, parks, recreational, and other public facilities.