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Secretary's Column: Recognizing Native American Heritage Month

Posted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Initiatives Food and Nutrition Rural
Nov 23, 2012

This November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has joined Americans across the country in recognizing Native American Heritage Month. We’ve taken time to honor the contributions of more than 5 million Native Americans across the United States. We’ve also reaffirmed our special relationship with those who live, work and raise their families in rural America.

Rural America provides so much to all of us – abundant food, clean water, beautiful outdoor spaces, renewable energy and more. The positive impact of our rural areas is further strengthened by the diversity, knowledge and tradition of Tribal communities.  

Today, more than 55 million acres across America is Tribal land, much of it in rural areas. Agriculture is a leading employer in Tribal communities. The number of Native American producers is on the rise, up almost 90 percent.

At USDA, we strive to support Tribal communities, businesses, and producers.

Since 2009 USDA has stepped up Tribal consultation, holding more than 2,000 meetings with Tribes each year. We have consulted with Tribes on more than 100 new USDA rules and regulations.

We’ve partnered with Tribes to tackle critical issues. For example, since 2009 the Department has worked with more than 270 Tribal governments to provide healthier food for more than 250,000 low-income Tribal citizens. Additionally, we’ve partnered with Tribal colleges to enhance community gardening efforts and improve nutrition education.

In 2010, we reached an historic settlement to provide compensation for Tribal producers who were wronged in the past, and today we are strengthening our outreach for the future. This year, I appointed a Council for Native American Farming and Ranching to advise our efforts in Tribal communities. In addition, USDA entered into new agreements this year with the Bureau of Indian Affairs that will improve access to USDA programs on Tribal lands.

Going forward, we’ll explore even more new opportunities to work with Tribes. Working together we will further Tribal efforts in sustainable agriculture, natural resource conservation, economic development and more. We will always keep a focus on building strong, resilient economies and creating more good jobs in Tribal communities.

As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, I encourage all Americans to remember the tremendous contributions of Native Americans to our nation’s economy, to its culture, and to its values. At USDA, we’ll continue working hard on behalf of all Native Americans – especially those who live, work and raise their families in rural America.