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FILE - Louise Billiot, left, a member of the United Houma Nation Indian tribe, walks around the home of her friend and tribal member Irene Verdin, which was heavily damaged from Hurricane Ida nine months before, along Bayou Pointe-au-Chien, in Pointe-aux-Chenes, La., on May 26, 2022. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has developed a singular plan to engage more fully with hundreds of Native American tribes who continue to face climate change-related disasters, the agency announced Thursday, Aug. 18. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)[ASSOCIATED PRESS/Gerald Herbert]

USA - FEMA declares new strategy to engage Native American tribes

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has developed a new strategy to better engage with hundreds of Native American tribes as they face climate change-related disasters, the agency announced Thursday.

FEMA will include the 574 federally recognized tribal nations in discussions about possible future dangers from climate change. It has earmarked $50 million in grants for tribes pursuing ways to ease burdens related to extreme weather. Tribal governments will be offered more training on how to navigate applying for FEMA funds. The new plan calls for tribal liaisons to give a yearly report to FEMA leaders on how prepared tribes are.

“We are seeing communities across the country that are facing increased threats as a result of climate change,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a conference call with media. “What we want to do in this strategy is make sure that we can reach out to tribal nations and help them understand what the potential future threats are going to be.”

In recent years, tribal and Indigenous communities have faced upheaval dealing with changing sea levels as well as an increase in floods and wildfires. Tribal citizens have lost homes or live in homes that need to be relocated because of coastal erosion. Some cannot preserve cultural traditions like hunting and fishing because of climate-related drought.

Lynda Zambrano, executive director of the Snohomish, Washington-based National Tribal Emergency Management Council, said tribes historically had to make do with nobody to guide them. For example, over 200 Native villages in Alaska have had to share one FEMA tribal liaison. Or different tribes were told different things. So, nonprofits like the council tried to fill in gaps with their own training, she said.

“The way that I equate it to people is that they built the highway, but they never created the on ramps,” Zambrano said. “If FEMA is just now getting around to building the ramps, well, that’d be a good thing. But there needs to be very clear policy and procedure and direction—and it has to be consistent.”

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