Knowledge of tribally-specific cultural beliefs and practices is essential for successfully assisting tribal communities in disasters. Public health planners and emergency responders will be better prepared to support Tribes if they have the advance training and preparation, along with some level of cultural and linguistic understanding, to provide culturally competent services. The 566 federally-recognized American Indian and Alaskan Tribes represent a rich array of diverse cultures, traditions, and histories. When coordinating or providing disaster health, behavioral health or medical services, the sovereign political structures and the diverse cultural histories can present challenges. Because of the diversity of cultural characteristics and governmental structures, it is important for those providing disaster-related support to respect the authority of elected and appointed Tribal Leaders, and their governments, and seek their input and permission before making assumptions regarding what is best for the Tribes. It is equally important to become familiar with the relevant coordination processes, roles and responsibilities of Federal, State, Tribal, local and non-governmental organizations (NGO) that are integral to tribal disaster response.
Research suggests that disasters can create difficulties, specifically among American Indian and Alaskan Natives who are at higher risk of disaster exposure and are often disproportionally affected. The reported rates of psychological distress, substance abuse and/or dependence are twice as high among American Indian and Alaskan Natives as compared to the general population.
This tool provides some basic resources and best practices to help disaster behavioral health and emergency responders better understand the general status of tribal behavioral health issues, and also provides information on emergency disaster services and/or organizations that support tribal communities. The goal is to provide a beginning frame of reference and several resources that will promote responders’ cultural awareness, as well as help introduce some of the rich culture, values, and traditions that are so important for respectfully assisting tribal communities. Enhanced understanding of the behavioral health specifics, and developing trusted sources of assistance for American Indians and Alaskan Natives can help providers mitigate the adverse effects disasters may have in tribal communities.
Tribal Declaration and Disaster Assistance
On January 29, 2013, President Obama signed the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, which amended the Stafford Act. The 2013 Act included a provision to provide federally-recognized American Indian and Alaskan Tribal Governments the option to request a Presidential emergency or major disaster declaration independent of a state. Tribal governments may still choose to seek assistance under a state declaration request. Each region has a
tribal liaison who can help tribes seek assistance and who may be able to provide information to disaster responders.
Disaster Behavioral Health Resources
The Indian Health Service is the principal federal health care provider and health services, including behavioral health services, for all federally recognized Tribes. This website provides an abundance of information and resource links that will aid responders in locating IHS Area Offices and contact information for personnel that manage most health services in Indian Country. Moreover, IHS Areas and Service Units have long established relationships with all Tribes, and are critical partners to aid responders with an integrated and coordinated response and recovery.
Promising Practice Disaster Behavioral Health : This archived presentation contains information and strategies for disaster behavioral health planning; although not targeted specifically toward Indian Country, it provides an overview of disaster behavioral health services when working with diverse communities.
Tribal Training and Technical Assistance Center : This site offers information on Tribal training and Technical assistance services for mental and substance use disorders, suicide prevention, and the promotion of behavioral health to federally recognized tribes, other American Indian/Alaska Native communities, SAMHSA tribal grantees, and organizations serving Indian Country.