EBCI First Southeast Native American Tribe to Plan to Reduce Dangers from Future Disasters

March 21, 2005

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) in North Carolina is reportedly the first American Indian tribe in the eight southeastern states to receive approval of their Hazard Mitigation Plan from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This approval enables the EBCI to apply for a variety of hazard mitigation project grants available from FEMA through the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management.

The EBCI reservation – incorporated under the laws of North Carolina in 1889 – is located in the southern Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. The reservation’s most developed areas are in Swain and Jackson Counties and are comprised of two large tracts known as the Qualla Boundary and the 3200 Acre Tract. Additional lands are in Haywood, Graham and Cherokee counties. Over all, the reservation spreads over 56,000 acres, with six distinct communities: Big Cove, Birdtown, Yellowhill, Soco, Paint Town and Wolftown.

The FEMA-approved Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan submitted by the Cherokee Tribal Council – the legislative branch of the EBCI – addresses ways to mitigate against the ravages of natural and manmade disasters.

The plan was developed to help the Cherokee Tribal Council make decisions on how best to minimize damage resulting from natural hazards, including floods, landslides and erosion, wildfires, high winds, earthquakes, droughts and extreme heat, severe winter weather, and selective man-made hazards on the EBCI Reservation.

The overall purpose of the plan is to assist the EBCI in reducing the human and economic costs of disasters by minimizing disruption to the reservation following a disaster, streamlining the disaster recovery process by having in place pre-identified actions that can be taken to reduce or eliminate future damage, and improving the hazard resistance of new development.

The plan also calls for reducing the vulnerability of existing infrastructure, providing the basis for grant funding and loans to homeowners and small businesses for the purpose of implementing mitigation measures, capitalizing on federal funding that may become available before or after a disaster strikes, and ensuring the tribe maintains eligibility for the full range of future federal disaster relief.

Specifically, the plan is a comprehensive look at identifying hazards that can be anticipated by the tribe and is organized into seven primary areas of concern.

The seven sections include: an introduction, familiarizing the reader with the environmental setting of the Cherokee Reservation holdings; providing a profile of the community; detailing the process followed in preparing the plan; a description of the hazards affecting the reservation and an analysis of the vulnerability of the existing infrastructure, housing, and other development; an overview of current and anticipated land use and development trends; an analysis and recommendation of hazard-specific mitigation strategies with a timeline for completion; and an outline of how the plan was initially adopted and how it will be reviewed and updated.

Unlike state and local governments, Indian tribes have a different and special relationship with FEMA as acknowledged in FEMA tribal policy. This relationship stems from centuries of Indian policy starting with the early settlers who during colonial days signed treaties similar to treaties signed with foreign nations.

As development pressures increased, tribes were reportedly often threatened with displacement by community and state initiatives. Acts of Congress, other legislation, court decisions, regulations, policies, and presidential executive orders led to the creation of federal agencies and policies to preserve and protect Indian rights. However, the EBCI worked closely with North Carolina state government, and received state approval of their new plan prior to submittal to FEMA.

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