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Yale J Health Policy Law Ethics. 2015 Summer;15(2):251-92.

Responding to Public Health Emergencies on Tribal Lands: Jurisdictional Challenges and Practical Solutions.


Response to public health emergencies on tribal lands poses a unique challenge for state and tribal public health officials. The complexity and intensely situation-specific nature of federal Indian jurisprudence leaves considerable question as to which government entity, state or tribal, has jurisdiction on tribal lands to undertake basic emergency measures such as closure of public spaces, quarantine, compulsory medical examination, and investigation. That jurisdictional uncertainty, coupled with cultural differences and an often troubled history of tribal-state relations, threatens to significantly impede response to infectious disease outbreaks or other public health emergencies on tribal lands. Given that tribal communities may be disproportionately impacted by public health emergencies, it is critical that tribal, state, and local governments engage with each other in coordinated planning for public health threats. This Article is offered as a catalyst for such planning efforts. The Article identifies some of the most pressing jurisdictional issues that may confront governments responding to a public health emergency on tribal lands, with the aim of highlighting the nature of the problem and the need for action. The Article goes on to examine the most promising means of addressing jurisdictional uncertainty: intergovernmental agreements. Already utilized in many areas of shared interest between tribe and state, intergovernmental agreements offer neighboring state, local, and tribal governments a vehicle for delineating roles and authorities in an emergency, and may lay the groundwork for sharing resources. The Article surveys various representative tribal public health intergovernmental agreements, and concludes with suggestions for tribes and state or local governments looking to craft their own agreements.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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