Indigenous Communities Receive Unequal Aid After Natural Disasters

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Despite having a more vulnerable population in terms of unemployment and income, indigenous communities are not receiving the same amount of disaster relief aid as the rest of the country. In a November 6, 2019 article in High Country News, Allison Herrera reported that “data from the National Congress of American Indians show that U.S. citizens [recovering from a natural disaster] receive, on average, about $26 per person, per year, from the federal government, while tribal citizens receive approximately $3 per person, per year.”

The current system FEMA has in place for distributing aid puts indigenous communities at a disadvantage. To receive certain sorts of aid, such as “permanent, non-emergency repairs or long-term mitigation measures”, tribes must have a FEMA-approved mitigation plan. However, only 30% of tribes had one. In these communities, every region has one tribal liaison who, “navigates tribal agencies, approved contractors, the federal government and tribal council.” For these situations, this individual would be the sole person in charge of handling the heavy load of paperwork FEMA requires, with no guarantee that any funding or support will be provided. By making the process of seeking aid needlessly difficult for indigenous people, the agency is unfairly barring access to relief based on ethnicity/race.

Even when FEMA agrees to help, the aid they award is usually inadequate. According to Herrera’s article, FEMA workers are inexperienced in working with indigenous tribes and, in one case, required three full-time employees to file the request properly. Tribes have reported being sent unskilled “college student” workers who made faulty repairs, leading to increased time and cost to finishing repair project. There have also been reports of some payments being delayed for more than a year after a disaster occurred due to incorrect coding of hours on FEMA forms.

To date, there has been no coverage of this story by any of the corporate news media.

Source: Allison Herrera, “When Disaster Strikes, Indigenous Communities Receive Unequal Recovery Aid,” High Country News, November 6, 2019,

Student Researcher: Melanie Reyes (Indian River State College)

Faculty Evaluator:  Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)