EM Forum Presentation — July 27, 2011

"Nation-to-Nation" Tribal Relationship-Building
in FEMA Region 7

Scott Weinberg
Tribal Liaison, FEMA Region 7

Rebecca White
Chairwoman, Ponca Tribe of Nebraska

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

This transcript contains references to slides which can be downloaded from
http://www.emforum.org/vforum/FEMA/nation-to-nation.pdf for ease of printing
A video recording is available at
An audio only recording is available at

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone and welcome once again to EMForum.org. I am Amy Sebring and will serve as your Moderator today. We are very glad you could join us. For our newcomers, we will be providing some instructions as we go along so you can relax and participate with us.

Our topic today is "Nation-to-Nation Tribal Relationship-building in FEMA Region 7." There are related links on today’s background page, including to a recent Congressional hearing on Emergency Preparedness for Native Americans who have been, or are being, impacted by recent flooding and wildfire disasters.

There is also a link to an EMI Independent Study course called "Building Partnerships with Tribal Governments," as well as links to the current FEMA Tribal Policy and the Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program and legislation pending in the House to amend the Stafford Act. Please check out these resources at your convenience.

[Slide 1]

Now it is my pleasure to introduce today’s guests: Scott Weinberg serves as Tribal Liaison for FEMA Region 7 which includes the states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. He previously served as a Project Officer with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Refugee Resettlement. He also served as a Special Assistant in the Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response and other prior positions with HHS.

Also joining us is Rebecca White, Chairwoman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. Becci is a member of the Nebraska Indian Commission, the National Congress of American Indians, the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Health Board, the Native American Indian Education Achievement Council for Omaha Public Schools, and has been appointed to FEMA’s National Advisory Council.

Welcome to you both, and thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today. I now turn the floor over to Scott to start us off please.


Scott Weinberg: Thank you, Amy, Avagene, Lori and Becci for being here. Thank you to the EM Forum for the good light it sheds on emergency management.

[Slide 2]

FEMA’s mission statement, as you can see, focuses on working together. It centers on forming partnerships. It is central of FEMA’s mission statement.

[Slide 3]

Across the country, there are over 500 federally recognized tribes. That is a lot of partnerships. In Region VII, we have federally nine recognized tribes—the Ponca, the Santee Sioux, the Omaha, the Winnebago, the Potawatomi, the Kickapoo, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas, the Sac and Fox of Missouri and the Sac and Fox of Mississippi and Iowa.

[Slide 4]

In Region VII, we have a tradition of honoring our partnerships with the tribes. This is a photo of a tribal quilt that was presented to the regional administrator in Region VII back in 2002. It is hanging at our front door next to our Region VII and DHS logo. It was given to us by the Tribes at the signing of the 2002 MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between FEMA Region VII and the Tribes in Region VII.

That MOU demonstrates that there is a tradition of honoring the partnerships with the Tribes in Region VII. The MOU calls for the establishment of a Tribal Emergency Management Coordinating Council. That is a council that is comprised of representation from each of the nine Tribes in Region VII. Since then, we have also recently established a tribal working group here at FEMA Region VII where it is comprised of technical experts from across FEMA’s programs.

These two bodies communicate to each other and provide information in a nation-to-nation relationship with the tribes. So if there are questions, issues, or concerns regarding mitigation or public assistance, the Tribes can communicate directly through their council and our travel working group.

This MOU was based on FEMA policy at that time. Now we have new policy that was crafted in 2010. We are redoing our MOU with the Tribes so that it reflects the current policy.

[Slide 5]

The current new policy is nation-to-nation policy. This policy was really underscored by FEMA administrator Craig Fugate last week in his Senate testimony. He really laid down the new policy in his testimony. The words "nation-to-nation" are referenced eleven times in the new FEMA tribal policy.

It acknowledges, as Mr. Fugate did in his testimony, the inherent sovereignty of the tribes. This inherent sovereignty is backed up by year and layers of legal precedents over the years, decades, centuries. The policy reasserts that Tribes have a unique and direct relationship with the federal government. They are not local governments. They are not under local governments. They are not under local governments. They are not political subdivisions of the state.

In addition, Craig’s testimony deals with issues such as the total community approach FEMA is taking and how important and central tribal relations are to the whole community. FEMA’s leadership comes from diverse backgrounds with tremendous underground experience in emergency response and management and intergovernmental affairs.

Our dealing with the Tribes really depends on the ability of our leadership to communicate with the Tribes and understand their rich cultural history so that nation-to-nation relations become a vital part of FEMA’s ability to fulfill its whole community mission.

[Slide 6]

Recent improvements in tribal relations in FEMA are designations of full-time tribal liaisons in FEMA’s regional office. I wear two hats—I am private sector liaison and tribal liaison. There is a direction FEMA is taking to ensure there is a full-time tribal liaison in each region so that is a top priority. It is not just something that is done as an aside. It is something that we do full-time.

There is a new Federal Indian Law Attorney in FEMA’s Office of Chief Counsel. There is new training at the EMI (Emergency Management Institute) on tribal emergency management. EMI is in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Plus there are funding opportunities through the DHS Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program.

[Slide 7]

What are we doing right now in Region VII? We are working with the Tribes directly. We are making every effort to go out into the field and meet directly with the tribes. One of our FCOs is meeting directly with tribes. We are listening to Tribes when we meet with them. They bring to our attention perceptions about procedural obstacles. We work to remove those obstacles to the extent possible.

We provide technical assistance. We make sure that Region VII program specialists are able at any time to provide technical assistance to the tribes. We make sure all eligible support is made available to the tribes. There is a new initiative that is about to be unveiled at ready.gov, called "Ready Indian Country", which is an initiative that focuses specifically on tribes, to enhance tribal readiness.

[Slide 8]

Last but not least—this is really exciting—pursuant to federal law, the National Advisory Council advises the FEMA administrator on all aspects of emergency government. And our own Ponca Chairwoman from Region VII, Rebecca White, has been appointed by Craig Fugate to the position on the council for Elected Tribal Official.

The Ponca Tribe has a very large place in tribal history and it is our very good fortune to have Becci White on the Advisory Council.

[Slide 9]

Thank you and with that, I’ll pass it over to Rebecca White.

[Slide 10]

Rebecca (Becci) White: Hello, everyone. I’m very excited to participate in this. The big thing is nation-to-nation, and we are lucky to have Scott as our tribal liaison for our area. We are trying to work nation-to-nation.

[Slide 11]

Just to give you a little background—the Ponca Tribe is actually one of four Tribes in the state of Nebraska. The other three possess reservations. We actually have service areas. Our service Tribes range from twelve in the state of Nebraska, one in South Dakota, and two in Iowa. We have a large service base and most of our service base includes members from other Tribes when it comes to many of our services since we are in an urban area.

[Slide 12]

About the Ponca tribe—our size has never been large. We date back to about the 1780s. There is history that says we were part of the Omaha Tribe at one time. In 1780 we had about 1,800 members. As we have all experienced hardships, smallpox hit our Tribe and we dwindled down to about 200. We have worked those numbers back up, and our last statistics showed that we have about 3,100 members nationwide.

[Slide 13]

A monument step for all the Tribes was the trial of Chief Standing Bear. I consider that the first and foremost of civil rights was that trial. It came about by the government forcing Native Americans down to Oklahoma in the Trail of Tears. Along that trail he lost a daughter and at the end of the trail he lost a son due to all the issues that came about on the trail.

His son asked before he died that he be buried at the homeland, so Chief Standing Bear and a few of his men began the journey back home. When they hit the Omaha area, they were held captive at a fort near Omaha, and that began the trial.

I think we can all relate to the speech he gave, and I love the statement that he made that is on the slide: "That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man. God made us both."

At that point in time—this is kind of a history lesson, but also of the pertinence of Chief Standing Bear.

[Slide 14]

The next thing that happened to the Ponca Tribe is that we were the last Tribe to be terminated by the federal government in 1966. We were not considered or recognized by the federal government.

[Slide 15]

It wasn’t until October 31st of 1990 that we were restored. By that time, many of our people had dispersed from our homelands close to Niobrara, Nebraska, which is our headquarters. Due to that fact, we were given service areas as opposed to reservations.

[Slide 16]

In recent months, with the Missouri River flooding, I wanted to make sure everybody understood the impact it is having on our Tribes in the area. This is a picture of the Winnebago’s casino, Winnavegas. It is really hard to believe that they have found a way to reopen the casino after a month.

They received and are using three duck boats from state of Florida and they have gone to Woodbury County and gotten it approved as long as the persons using the ducks sign waivers that the county is not responsible for any accidents. They are transporting them from where they park to the sand banks surrounding the casino.

That is set to reopen this week and I believe that is a great accomplishment of the Tribe working with resources available to them including getting permission from the county.

[Slide 17]

This slide is very hard to believe, since I’ve been at both of these casinos. This is Casinomaha, which belongs to the Omaha Tribe in the background. As you can tell this one will not be reopening anytime soon. I just spoke to their chairman, Amen Sherman, on Friday and he said the Tribe has over 12,000 acres underwater. Imagine the impact that has on that Tribe and the reason that FEMA and the Tribes need to be working directly.

[Slide 18]

The next slide—Niobrara is Ponca headquarters, and next to it is the Santee Nation. Both are on Highway Twelve, and it is important to see that on both sides of Niobrara, Nebraska, it is closed on Highway Twelve. Highway Twelve leads to Santee, so it is affecting their casino and all their economic development.

We have members that have to take boats to get to the Chief Standing Bear Bridge to move forward with their employment. My administrative assistant drives a four-wheeler part way to work because she is unable to drive on the roads. She has a car parked so she can take it the balance of the way. Highway Twelve affects both the Santee Nation and Ponca Nation.

[Slide 19]

Because the Ponca Tribe has service areas, Interstate 29 is one of the main vehicles of transportation between our service areas. It connects Omaha to our counties in Iowa. The first picture is a picture of I-29 just north of Omaha. That is a road that we are unable to travel at all. We do not know how long it will take until things are back to normal.

The other picture is a picture of a building in Sioux City. Sioux City is in Woodbury County which is one of Ponca service areas. They have also been devastated by the flood. Much of the interstate in that area is also closed. In between these two, I-29 connects three out of four of the tribes.

Along the corridor of I-29, you have service areas of the Poncas, but in between you have the Winnebago and the Omaha. It is affecting all the Tribes of Nebraska.

[Slide 20]

This is our community building that was built many, many years ago. It is on the Historical Sites. I think it is one of the great things that shows what the Tribes and federal government can do when they come together. We still use this building today for funerals and sometimes tribal council meetings. It is a very important part of our history.

It is important to know that building would not have come about had it not been for the federal government working with the tribes. I have recently been appointed to the FEMA NAC board. I look forward to my orientation on August 31. I have been making weekly calls to them to see what I can do as a tribal representative because I know we are not the only Tribes that have come into hard times.

The actual training for the FEMA NAC board—the first conference is set for September 26-28. If there are any Tribes that have issues that I need to bring forward or be aware of, please do not hesitate to contact me. I did include that FEMA NAC was established and was supposed to do for the tribes: The National Advisory Council was established to ensure effective and ongoing coordination of federal preparedness, protection, response, recovery and mitigation for natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other manmade disasters, such as this flood.

That covers a lot. Our Tribes are going through a lot. Our country is going through a lot. I would like to make sure that I am as big a resource that I can be for our Tribes when it comes to the capacity.

[Slide 21]

This is a Nation-to-Nation stand. Scott and I would like to open it up to any questions and answers at this time.

[Slide 22]

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Scott and Becci. Now, let’s proceed to our Q&A.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Isabel McCurdy: I'm not clear what service area means, would you elaborate on that please.

Rebecca White: Most Tribes have reservations. Since we were terminated for thirty years, when they reinstated us as a tribe, they could not give us our reservation area back because we didn’t have enough population. They went according to our population at the time that we were reinstated to give us counties as service areas, which would be considered our "reservation". We have fifteen different counties within our area that make up what would be considered a reservation for another tribe.

Chris Little: Thank you for the presentations. Two questions, please: what are the largest challenges faced by Tribal Nations in regards to getting disaster response and recovery information out to both community leaders and the general public, and, where can Federal recovery programs improve in this regard to meet the needs of Tribal Nations?

Rebecca White: When it comes to largest challenges, I believe that comes with communication and knowing who to contact and how to get things done. Now that we each have tribal liaison representatives, I think that is the greatest place to start. I would like any involvement I could get at this point, so that I understand all the needs of all the tribal nations.

I know that sounds like a lot, but I want to do as much as I can for all the tribes. Challenges come mainly from lack of communication. I think some of the tribal liaisons have taken a great approach by actually going out into our communities and understanding our needs.

Scott Weinberg: From my experience so far, one of the main challenges is helping Tribes in a partnership to empower the Tribe to become more familiar and functional with what they are able to do to leverage resources. FEMA has a tribal legal counsel now, and it is a function of communication and partnership but one of our greatest strengths is that we have a federal tribal liaison who recently visited the tribes. His name is Richard Flores and he is on the call. He wanted to greet everybody and say hello. He is over in the western side of the country right now. Experts like this who can help Tribes become familiar with the legal tools they have at their disposal as a sovereign nation—that is a challenge and an opportunity.

I think when Tribes begin to realize what it means legally to be a sovereign nation, things start to happen. As opposed to calling up an official saying, "How can you help me? I need help," saying, "We are tribal, we are sovereign, this is what we want pursuant to policy and everything that is eligible to us."

The other thing, there are all sorts of complications with grant applications and requirements, grant requirements dealing with the federal government—I have some grant experience and the process is lengthy and there is a lot of paperwork. If a Tribe has a grant expert, someone familiar with grant process, that is very helpful, too.

Amy Sebring: I understand that now the Tribes may apply for the public assistance program—the grant program that rebuilds roads and infrastructure—that the Tribes may opt now to be the direct grantee from FEMA versus going through the state. Is that correct?

Scott Weinberg: That is correct. That certainly is an option a Tribe has. If they choose that option, what we provide is information to make sure they know all the requirements. It is the tribe’s choice to go that route if they choose. It is our role to provide the pros and cons and requirements of whatever way the Tribe wishes to go. That is an opportunity a Tribe has.

Rebecca White: On the pros and cons—are those nationwide or is it Tribe by tribe?

Scott Weinberg: We can provide more information on this. There is a standard across the nation, and there are standard federal requirements if a Tribe wishes to work as a grantee directly with FEMA as opposed to working through a state. The Tribe has to get more involved. Our role is to provide clear guidance on the pros and cons of each and to help the Tribe make its own decision, and to support whatever decision the Tribe makes.

Lisa Schaumann: What does your Tribe have in terms of emergency management resources? Do you have your own police force, fire service or other emergency management services?

Rebecca White: Because of our status with service areas, we do not. We don’t have a reservation. We are mixed of urban and rural counties. We have to do contracts with most of the areas we are in. We have our own tribal court and are able to enforce laws through our tribal court. Our system is set up a little bit different because of our service areas.

David Zocchetti: How does FEMA reconcile their policy to treat Indian Tribes as co-equal nations (which is consistent with general legal precedent or nation-to-nation) and the Stafford Act that treats Tribes as local governments?

Scott Weinberg: Dave, good question. The nation-to-nation for the current FEMA tribal policy, it means opening the door to direct communication with the tribe, whether it is pre-disaster planning or providing technical assistance for federal assistance a Tribe is eligible for, or coordinating with our other federal agencies if FEMA program funding isn’t available to a tribe, another federal agency may be able to assist, such as USDA, Bureau of Indian Affairs, or Small Business Administrations.

It is supporting that direct Tribe to federal government direct communication. Even if a Tribe needs assistance with some administrative requirement that comes from a state or local government—there are legislative initiatives. There is a House Bill 1953, which I believe is an attempt to close the gap of contradiction on the point you raised, that would enable Tribes to request disaster assistance from the President of the United States.

Bill Sulinckas: What means will Becky use to share information presented within the NAC with other tribes? And how will she solicit information from the Tribes around the country?

Rebecca White: I believe that can be handled with a blog or website. I think that will be needed. I need to make sure it will be approved by FEMA so I will be able to get communication going that way—if someone has a question, we can put it on the blog and answer it that way. I would like to supply my email address and phone number to everyone:
[email protected]
Tel. 402.616.2334

Michael A. Brazel: Will the NAC focus on the implementation of NIMS to the Tribes across the country? And do the Tribes understand that they must adopt NIMS for preparedness grant funding. NIMS coord. Region 1

Scott Weinberg: Tribes, in large, understand that. In Region VII we provide technical assistance to Tribes to ensure to support their efforts to be NIMS compliant.

Chris Little: Thank you. Clarifying question please: when you say that "communication" is the biggest challenge, is that communication in terms of mechanisms (e.g., limited ability for outreach due to limited internet access, etc.) or by way of lacking person-to-person relationships that can facilitate the flow of information?

Scott Weinberg: It is both. There is a phrase called "cultural competencies". It is a technical term. I know that in post-Katrina one of the lessons learned was cultural competencies—when FEMA and other federal staff deploy into a community, you get a better recovery and response footing as a federal agency when you are to the degree that you have cultural competency.

That is a cold way of saying that you understand who you are speaking to in a meeting with tribes. You understand who they are as people. People come from diverse cultural backgrounds. People are part of traditions. Their culture may have unique things that are slightly different.

The typical family that lives in Johnson County, Olathe where I live, has a different cultural history than a tribal family that lives in the Santee Nation. We just come from different walks of life. It has been fascinating to me to meet tribal leaders as people and to go in and see the picture on their wall—the pictures of past leaders who by and large were family members related personally to the people you are meeting with.

This is really important. The other part of communication is that it is nation-to-nation. I had some experience in local government where I was a county supervisor, and your neighbor would come into the board room, and he is almost your best friend, but he doesn’t speak to you as a buddy—he speaks to you in government language.

The tribal relations between FEMA, the federal government and tribes—it has both aspects. It has this cultural understanding as well as people who are well versed in how people speak to each other. When a tribal leader sends a letter to the regional administrator or the White House, they need to know what to say so that we can respond.

It is two things, and I think they bring out the best in what our governments can do together.

Rebecca White: Communication, I think, is always a challenge when it comes to tribal governments. So many other times, we try to look for resources and resolutions internally. I think the mindset of thinking externally and looking at all the resources and becoming aware—I think there is an education factor that will go with that.

I look forward to learning all of that—to trust and get experience and get exposure to different resources that are out there—some we may know of and some we may not—I think that is part of the challenge when it comes to communication.

Avagene Moore:
I am a member of the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM). They have a Tribal Caucus chaired by Charles Kmet. Are you involved with their efforts? I believe you and other tribal representatives could help promote tribal issues if agreeable to an affiliation with these folks.

Amy Sebring: We can provide that information to you in follow up.

Patricia Rippe: Does FEMA have a Tribal policy for the National Flood Insurance Program. If yes, when was it issued?

Scott Weinberg: We don’t have a specific policy for that. We do provide are technical experts from the program in Region VII to communicate the requirements, details, ins and outs of that. For example in Iowa, we had a meeting with local officials on NFIP. A lot of the questions were from homeowners about their own, private flood insurance.

Our chief was able to answer those questions. We have a number of venues and outreach efforts to communicate and answer questions and describe the details of that program. The policy is overarching. It covers all of FEMA. Pursuant to that tribal policy, if there is a flood insurance issue involving the tribe, what we will do is convene the tribal work group and the council, and open up a nation-to-nation dialog that way.

Amy Sebring: I would also like to point out I did watch the Senate hearing last week. We do have a link to that on our background page. This is one of the topics that was discussed in that hearing during Administrator Fugate’s testimony. He taked about the challenge some of the reservations have in terms of meeting the basic requirements for and adopting and enforcing the flood plain management ordinances, and flood mapping issues. I just wanted to refer folks to that testimony if they want to get a little more information on that.

Bill Sulinckas: For Scott: Do you anticipate any problems with the Nation-to-Nation approach that FEMA is implementing to affect the State to Tribal relationships that may already be in place? Are you aware of any actions being taking by FEMA to include States in this change in these relationships?

Scott Weinberg: The nation-to-nation policy is a relationship between a sovereign nation and the federal government. Out of respect to that relationship and the sovereignty of a tribe, what FEMA does to respect, that is to provide assistance and information, technical assistance, to listen, to support decisions that Tribes want to make and how to pursue assistance, whether that is supporting a Tribe in its relationship with the state, or some other way.

It is critical to FEMA to support the tribe. That is the core of our relationship. A state isn’t a sovereign nation. A local government isn’t a sovereign nation and a sovereign nation isn’t a political subdivision of a state. However, FEMA has intergovernmental affairs specialists and the role of tribal relations requires a great deal of diplomacy and ambassadorship on the part of FEMA liaisons.

It is a constant opportunity to support states in their desire to strengthen their relationships with tribes. Frankly, I hear stories from Tribes where they aren’t treated as a sovereign nation by the state. That is important to hear and to provide support to the Tribe with whatever way they want to pursue assistance.

Avagene Moore: Is disaster preparedness training available in your schools and to the community at large? Through CERT teams for example? Are tribal members amenable to this type of training?

Rebecca White: We have a unique situation with our Tribe because we have different administrative offices in different cities including Omaha, Lincoln, North Fork, Sioux City, Iowa and Niobrara, Nebraska, which is our headquarters.

Our Omaha office consists of an IHS (Indian Health Service) facility, so we do have disaster preparedness for each of our offices. Then again, our situation is unique. We do not have reservation schools, because we do not have reservations. The balance of the Tribes in Nebraska has schools on their reservations. When it comes to disaster preparedness, we do as much as we can, but we have to look at our situation as opposed to if we are in rural or urban or rural areas.

Amy Sebring: We have a link to an independent study course on tribal relationships provided by EMI. Can you describe some of the other training available from EMI?

Scott Weinberg: EMI covers a wide range of training. It is important to beef up the training for tribal issues. There are universal things which are consistent in the training on tribal issues, but it is specialized for tribal issues. It is currently updated when changes take place. These are really good training opportunities.

Even the ICS training online that FEMA provides is really good training for anyone who is involved with tribal issues, because there are universal things across the board that are common for everyone involved in FEMA and emergency management.

[Bill Sulinckas: FEMA Training for Tribal operations include Continuity of Operations (COOP), Emergency Management Framework for Tribal Government, and Emergency Management Operations for Tribal Government. All at EMI.]

Chris Little: Can you please give a brief description of the pending changes/updates to the Stafford Act to which you alluded at the beginning of the presentation, and speculate on their impacts to Tribal Nations?

Scott Weinberg: There is legislation, and there has been legislation in the past. It hasn’t gone to markup yet—we don’t advocate for or against legislation as federal employees. The legislation appears to be very straightforward. If you boil it all down, forgive me if I botch something here—you can certainly find it online—it would enable a Tribe to request federal disaster assistance directly to the White House, as opposed to the Stafford Act works through the governor of a state needing to request that.

Imagine in Nebraska, if there were a disaster that basically had a huge impact on a Tribe and only a Tribe, or a disaster that had a relatively humongous impact on a Tribe, but an impact on a non-tribal area that didn’t overwhelm local response. Since Tribes are autonomous nations and communities, they are more vulnerable, in a sense.

The legislation hasn’t gone to markup yet, but it is something that would make that change. Under the Stafford Act, a Tribe could request and the President could approve. FEMA could assess impacts in preliminary damage assessments just based on the tribal request, and then the President could make that determination.

So at least then some Tribes wouldn’t think that it wasn’t being approved because the governor didn’t request it.


Amy Sebring: Time to wrap for today. Thank you so much Scott and Becci. We appreciate your taking the time to be with us today to share this information and we wish you continuing success in the future. Best of luck on the National Advisory Council, Becci. I’m sure you will do a wonderful job for folks.

Also if your organization is interested in becoming an EIIP partner please use the link from our home page or one included in your email announcement. We certainly would be delighted to welcome tribal partnerships.

Our next program will take place Wednesday, August 10th. Please watch for our announcement and plan to be with us then. Until next time, thanks to everyone for participating today and have a great afternoon. We are adjourned.