The 30-minute video “Strength and Resiliency: Emergency Preparedness for Tribal Leaders and Program Directors—Your Roles and Responsibilities” came from the last 5 years that I have been hearing the same concern from tribal emergency managers who report difficulty getting enough time with tribally elected officials and/or program directors to effectively explain how to deal with emergencies on tribal lands. Unlike city or county elected officials, tribal leaders often spend a great amount of time traveling to meetings throughout the United States. Many of them spend a great deal of time at meetings with state elected officials, members of Congress as well as their staff, heads of federal agencies and other tribal leaders. They are tireless advocates for state and federal policy changes to improve the lives of their tribal members and to ensure the right to tribal self-determination is fully realized—but clearly very busy.
During FEMA Region V Tribal conference calls or at related meetings, many of my tribal counterparts expressed an interest in finding or developing a simple video to summarize and show what would be needed to deal with an emergency situation on tribal lands. I tried searching the Internet but could not find the right video tool to meet the needs of emergency managers in Indian Country. It became my personal mission to develop such a tool.
Years ago, I had the honor of meeting Randolph Mantooth at the National Native American EMS Conference in Las Vegas several, then again at the Arrowhead EMS Conference in Minnesota. I spoke to him about this issue and received some good direction on what it would take to create it. Mantooth also expressed his willingness to narrate and star in the video. He had starred in two ICS videos in 2004—videos I used when I was teaching NIMS courses. Further, because Mantooth is a Seminole Indian from Oklahoma, I knew he would be the right person to narrate the tribal video.
The biggest barrier that remained was the issue of funding. Several years later, while attending a conference at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, the issue came up once again, and at that point, representatives from the university informed the group that they had a grant from the CDC to create such a video project. So a small team of us from FEMA Region V got together and started working on the video. The tribal liaison from FEMA Region V was a key lead, and because our small team wanted to ensure that the video met all FEMA requirements, the tribal liaison wrote the script.
Eagle Clan Productions, a Native-owned video production company, was hired to create the video. After several script revisions, Mantooth made his way to Mille Lacs Indian Reservation for filming. Once all the filming was completed, Eagle Clan Productions edited the content. The University of Minnesota School of Public Health then took the video and did the final clean up and mailed it to all 565 federally recognized tribes to be used to assist them in their tribal emergency preparedness efforts.
Many of the 565 federally recognized tribes have what is known as “checker-boarded” reservation landbase, meaning tribal lands are often spread out over a wide area and at times may cross into several counties or even across state lines. When emergencies happen, they might start on county, state and/or federal land and then cross into tribal land holdings—or vice versa. Tribal agencies have to know how non-tribal agencies will respond if called upon to assist. More importantly, non-tribal response agencies have to understand how they will operate on tribal lands if requested. When dealing with a tribal government, it is important to understand things like Public Law 280 (state criminal jurisdication enforced on tribal land) or if a reservation is regarded a closed reservation (no state criminal jurisdiction). Understanding the concepts of tribal sovereignty and cultural sensitivity are essential when working with tribes. Understanding the difference between a tribal unified command system or Tribal Emergency Response Committee (TERC) compared to CFLOP, which non-tribal agencies use, is crucial. A lack of understanding can lead to non-collaboration and thus put tribal infrastructure and/or lives in danger.
Mantooth and I envision this video being used by tribal fire leaders to educate tribally elected officials and others in emergency preparedness and their role on the TERC and unified command. I also see this tool being used to help educate non-Indian firefighting agencies about tribal communities. With the proper educational tool, local, regional, state and/or federal response teams will be able to more effectively assist in emergency situations on tribal lands.