Deputy Secretary Meets Tribal Leaders, Hears From Stakeholders in South Dakota
Brookings, S.D., February 28, 2013 –Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan hosted two roundtable meetings in South Dakota this week to further USDA tribal consultation efforts and to obtain input from stakeholders on education and extension issues. During the meetings, Merrigan said USDA is moving aggressively to promote business development in rural South Dakota and in Indian Country with a goal of creating new, sustainable jobs.
"The Obama Administration understands the important role and relationship USDA has with extension services, universities, youth, and Tribes. Further strengthening the government-to-government relationship through consultations like these will establish a more meaningful process," said Merrigan. She added, "I am here today to listen to your thoughts and ideas about how the federal government can work with you to expand economic opportunities here in South Dakota and across the Nation."
Among those in attendance at the sessions were extension service representatives, 4-H youth leaders, representatives of non-profit corporations, and tribal leaders. USDA is seeking input from Tribes on ways to provide greater access to programs to Native American farmers, ranchers and small business owners.
The first roundtable was held at South Dakota State University in Brookings to discuss research, education, and extension programs and then at Ft. Thompson to discuss tribal and economic development opportunities. Merrigan noted that Indian Country continues to have substantial rates of unemployment, and chronic poverty. She was joined at the meetings by Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Craig Schaunaman, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Jeff Zimprich and Rural Development State Director Elsie Meeks.
"These Round Tables are an opportunity to hear directly from extension, youth and tribal leaders about their ideas on how to grow the economy. They are also intended to educate participants about USDA programs and other federal resources that help rural residents, businesses, and communities," commented Meeks. "Improving public access to USDA programs will grow the South Dakota economy through business, housing, infrastructure needs, community, farming and ranching projects."
Besides the stop at South Dakota State University, the Deputy Secretary visited Hunkpati Investments, which has received business program support from USDA and provides capital, financial literacy education and supports self-sufficiency and self-determination throughout the community. She also toured the Lakota Foods facility located on the Lower Brule Reservation. Lakota Foods is the first and only Native American owned and operated organization producing, processing, packaging, and marketing popcorn that celebrates its Native American origin.
President Obama's plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President's leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.
USDA's investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are committed to a smarter use of Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.
USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has an active portfolio of more than $176 billion in loans and loan guarantees. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America. More information about USDA Rural Development can be found at www.rurdev.usda.gov.
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