Cherokee Nation Emergency Management Act approved
TAHLEQUAH – Following months of discussion, Cherokee Nation leaders have backed an act formalizing Emergency Management into its own department.
Unanimously approved by the Tribal Council on July 20, the new CN Emergency Act is designed to “ensure the efficient use of all Cherokee Nation resources during events, disasters and states of emergency resulting from natural or manmade causes,” according to the legislation.
“This emergency code, I brought that up about four or five months ago,” Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd said. “This is to enhance and enable the executive branch to take care of (emergencies). We didn’t have really a code in place. We were taking care of business, and we did it in a good way. But actually I thought we needed some type of code to make sure that the chief and his staff had the resources to take care of this.”
CN officials said an emergency management policy and team exists within the Marshal Service, but lacks authority, when needed, to secure assistance from other agencies or departments within the CN. However, Attorney General Sara Hill and others have noted that when crisis needs arise, “The marshal uses his authority and the authority of the Cherokee Nation to do the work that they do.”
Marshal Service Director Shannon Buhl has overseen the tribe’s emergency operations for the past decade. It grew from “maybe a three-person shop into a national critical infrastructure” that is now called upon by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Buhl helped write the new legislation along with emergency management staff, the attorney general’s office and administration.
The act also provides for an official Emergency Management Advisory Committee, “a group of subject matter experts from various Cherokee Nation departments and one member of the Council of the Cherokee Nation.”
“They will provide guidance and information on program scope, staffing, resources, services, regulations and requirements,” the legislation states.
In other business, the Council voted to expand its eyeglass program to include an entire age group that was previously ineligible.
Under the old rules, the eyeglass voucher program was restricted to students, those over 55 years of age or for medical necessity.
“You have this whole group of people that are not (eligible),” CN Health Services Executive Director Dr. Stephen Jones said, adding that the changes will “allow anyone that comes to our clinics and gets an exam to be eligible” for eyeglasses at no cost via a voucher. “It’s going to close that gap up of people who aren’t being eligible without medical necessity.”
Jones said the eyeglass vouchers cover “a certain dollar amount,” but options could have associated costs.
The new parameters also allow any CN citizen, no matter where they live, to qualify for a voucher if they get an eye exam at one of the CN’s facilities. Previously, the vouchers were restricted to citizens who live within the CN’s jurisdiction.
“So it’s going to open up the door for a lot of patients that weren’t able to access that resource,” Jones said.
The Council also passed a resolution “supporting the renaming” of the NFL’ Washington football team, which in July agreed to retire its team name and logo. The CN’s resolution refers to the term “Redskins” as “highly offensive and demeaning to the citizens of the Cherokee Nation.”
“There are a lot of tribes that do not have the luxury of living in a state like we do here in Oklahoma,” Byrd said. “Certain states just really have a difficult time of having mascots imposed on them.”