Washington D.C. –
U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing Thursday entitled Facing Floods and Fires: Emergency Preparedness for Natural Disasters in Native Communities.
“Disasters can have lasting effects on people personally, financially, and emotionally, and can undermine our sense of community and safety,” Chairman Akaka said. “In just the past few months, Native communities in New Mexico, Montana, Washington, Nebraska, and South Dakota have faced floods, fires, tornados, and severe storms. Lives were lost, homes destroyed, and sacred sites endangered.”
Chairman Akaka held the hearing to identify ways the federal response can be improved – both administratively and legislatively – so that tribes can better prepare for and respond to natural disasters.
The Committee heard witnesses from federal agencies that play a major role in responding to natural disasters in Native communities: the Departments of the Interior, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Witnesses supported closer collaboration between federal agencies and tribes, creating community disaster preparation plans, and amending the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act which gives authority for most Federal disaster response activities especially as they pertain to FEMA and FEMA programs. The Committee also heard testimony from Governor Walter Dasheno of the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico, where in July alone thousands of acres of land were destroyed as a result of the Las Conchas fire.
“Never again in our lifetime will we see our traditional and treasured homeland and spiritual sanctuary, the Santa Clara Canyon, as we have known it,” Governor Dasheno said. “It will take generations for our community and lands to recover from the devastation of this fire. But this is our only homeland; it is the place we have been entrusted with since time immemorial. While we intend to devote the resources we can to the healing of our land and the protection of our community, we do not have the resources to do it alone.”
Chairman Akaka’s full opening statement is available here: LINK
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