Maine USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel welcomed the Deputy Administrator for Rural Utilities (RUS) Jessica Zufolo to Maine this week for an important tribal consultation meeting with leaders of Maine’s Native American tribes.
The Tribal Consultation was held at the Buchanan Alumni House at the University of Maine at Orono. It began with a Native American Smudging Ceremony (a blessing to remove negative energy through smoke cleansing). At the Consultation, Deputy Administrator Zufolo and State Director Manuel met with Chiefs, Governors, and key staff from Maine's four Native American tribes for a discussion regarding the Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA) lands. The purpose of the visit was to discuss with the tribes whether they felt that programs under RUS were being maximized on tribal lands. Programs of focus are:
- Rural Electrification Loans and Guaranteed Loans including the High Energy Cost Grant
- Water and Waste Disposal Loans, Guaranteed Loans, and Grants
- Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans and Guaranteed Loans
- Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loans and Grants
- Broadband Loans and Guaranteed Loans
A discussion of key SUTA questions was held, with candid suggestions made by members of the Tribes. The comments will be shared with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to help improve the availability of RUS programs on tribal communities and in advance of the drafting of the 2012 Farm Bill. The Deputy Administrator was also given a tour of USDA Rural Development funded projects on Indian Island by Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis.
Deputy Administrator Zufolo said, “I am so pleased to have this opportunity to speak with tribal leaders about serving the Substantially Underserved Trust Areas in Maine. The programs administered by the Rural Utilities Service are vital to the future of tribal communities nationwide, and meetings like this ensure the RUS programs are responding to the needs of Native American tribes in Maine and across the county and utilized to their fullest potential.”
State Director Manuel agreed with the Deputy Administrator adding, “It is a priority of mine, and our dedicated Maine staff has a long history of working closely with the Micmac, Maliseet, Passamoquoddy, and Penobscot tribes to provide quality water and wastewater infrastructure, community facilities, homeownership and affordable housing, and economic development through our programs. This meeting reinforces our steadfast commitment to providing opportunities to Maine’s Native American tribes.”
For more information about USDA’s tribal consultation efforts click here (PDF, 323 KB).