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Secretary's Column: USDA Partners with Native Americans

Posted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Initiatives Technology
Feb 21, 2017

Shortly after taking office, I joined other Cabinet officials on a visit to rural Southwest Alaska. We met with Alaska Native leaders and heard firsthand the difficulties facing Native Americans living in small communities in remote, rural areas. Since that time, this administration has worked each day to provide Native Americans with improved housing, better educational opportunities, clean water and sanitation, and the opportunity to create good jobs. Across government, and here at USDA, we’ve made progress (PDF, 194 KB).

This past week, I joined President Obama and members of the Cabinet at the sixth White House Tribal Nations Conference here in Washington, DC. In addition to serving as the Chair of the White House Rural Council, I am also a member of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, chaired by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Our priorities in Indian Country include promoting sustainable economic development; supporting greater access to and control over healthcare; improving the effectiveness and efficiency of tribal justice systems; expanding and improving educational opportunities for Native American youth; and protecting and supporting the sustainable management of Native lands, environments and natural resources.

The Obama Administration has been committed to increasing tribal self-governance and self-determination, making it possible for tribes to develop resources and improve infrastructure on their lands, and also create employment and business opportunities for Native American families, including veterans and youth.

As part of this effort, I recently announced $9.7 million in grants to 62 community-based and non-profit organizations, and educational institutions to conduct training, outreach and technical assistance for socially disadvantaged, veteran, and tribal farmers and ranchers. A dozen of those grants will support tribes. Additionally, we are providing loans and grants totaling $4.1 million to 1994 Land Grant Tribal Colleges through USDA Rural Development's Community Facilities Programs. These programs provide funds to construct, enlarge or improve community facilities for healthcare, public safety and public services.

USDA will also support partnerships with three tribal colleges (Oglala Lakota College, Kyle, S.D.; Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, N.M.; United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, N.D.) by providing grant writing assistance and other services to help traditionally underserved communities access federal resources. We are also providing a $5.4 million loan to upgrade broadband service for residents of New Mexico's Mescalero Apache Reservation. This is the first telecommunications loan USDA has made under the Substantially Underserved Trust Area (SUTA) provision of the 2008 Farm Bill.

As we enter 2015, we will continue to work with tribes on a government-to-government basis, consulting and collaborating with them, and striving to ensure that they receive their fair share of support from USDA programs—support that not only provides jobs and educational opportunity, but also honors our promises and treaty responsibilities.

Category/Topic: Initiatives Technology

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Patrick Murphy
Dec 06, 2014

I an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe. Would the USDA be open to streamlining the 502, 504 Loans or bundling them to serve a larger amount of enrolled members of federally recognized tribes? The end result would be more federally recognized American Indians and Alaska Natives would be more apt to participate in this USDA program funding stream. Otherwise, I've been informed that there is a multi-month backlog, waiting list, and that the program was not intended to be utilized in this way.

Ben Weaver
Dec 15, 2014

@Patrick Murphy - Thank you for your comment. USDA Rural Development is working hard to address housing needs for Tribes and Tribal members. We welcome your suggestions on how to continue to improve our programs.

Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has provided direct and guaranteed loans to help nearly 6,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives buy homes in rural areas. We have also provided more than 1,300 grants and loans to help American Indians and Alaska Natives make essential repairs to homes they already own. We plan to build off of what has worked well in one area of the country and replicate these successes across a growing number of Tribal lands.

Again, we welcome your thoughts. If you’d like to submit comments, questions and/or suggestions on how best to streamline RD programs to better serve American Indians and Alaska Natives, will you please contact us at: <a href="; rel="nofollow"></a>?

If you’d like to see a couple examples of recent successes on Tribal lands, please see:…

Steven Moore
Jan 06, 2015

I would like to start an Indian Solar and tribal renewable energy effort in the Palm Springs Area. I also have been part of a Climate Change Task- Force and Hospitality Strike Team and greening hotels adding Electric Vehicles. EPA and also DOE.

I will also bring resources such as for Home Refinance, and purchase and small business, as well.

I have some ability to meet them also in the CDBG Community Development Block Grant.

Steven Moore, Palm Springs Ca