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High Five for Partnerships with Native Americans and Alaska Natives

Posted by Leslie Wheelock, USDA Office of Tribal Relations in Conservation Energy Food and Nutrition Rural
Feb 21, 2017

2015 was another banner year for innovative Federal / Tribal partnerships, government-to-government relations with Federally Recognized Tribes and investments that continue to improve the quality of life for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Here are five examples from this past year of ways USDA and this Administration have built on their deep commitment to improving our working relationships with Tribes and helping them meet unique challenges facing tribal communities head-on.

1. Tribal partnerships fuel sustainable aviation

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe working through the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance Tribal Partnership Program are making aviation biofuel from twigs and small branches that would otherwise have been burned in slash piles after timber harvests.

Residual forest materials are collected from tribal forestland for use in aviation biofuel production.  (Image courtesy of NARA)
Residual forest materials are collected from tribal forestland for use in aviation biofuel production. (Image courtesy of NARA)

2. Sowing Gardens, and Growing Kids Who Love Them

If you ever bought into the idea that “kids don’t like vegetables,” elementary schoolers at Cherokee Central Schools’ in North Carolina could have changed your mind that day. Stationed in front of the school during after-school pick-up time, every car and person within reach received a glowing description of the wondrous greens the students helped grow, the most popular being a local native variety called Creasy Greens.

Cherokee Central Schools students participating in a hands-on lesson in the school’s garden
Cherokee Central Schools students participate in a hands-on lesson in the school’s garden, which is planted with traditional varieties of vegetables grown for generations by the Cherokee people.

3. Investing in Opportunity in Indian Country

Investments in strong, secure infrastructure in Indian Country—things like roads and bridges, but also internet access, housing and community facilities like hospitals and schoolshelp to improve connectivity and access to information, move products to market, and make communities competitive and attractive to businesses and investments.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack presented with a blanket from the Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is presented a blanket from the Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D., from left to right, Kye Wientjes, Cheyenne River Sioux, Nitara Cheykaychi, Pueblo of Santo Domingo, Jess Begaye Oldham, Navajo Nation, at the “Better the Future” An Indian Agriculture Symposium, hosted by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) and the Indian Nations Conservation Alliance (INCA), in Las Vegas, NV, on Wednesday, December 7, 2011. USDA photo.

4. USDA Foods Help Nourish a Culture

Traditional foods are of significant value to Native American and Alaskan Natives today.  The same foods that have been used to feed our ancestors not only feed our bodies, but they feed our spirit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recognizes this importance and works diligently to offer program and partnership opportunities that help enhance traditional food access in Indian Country.

Musk Ox stew and other food
Recent memos from the Food and Nutrition Service provide clarification on how traditional foods, including Musk Ox in the depicted stew, play a vital role within dietary guidelines. Photo by Sedelta Oosahwee.

5. New Farm Bill Conservation Program Benefits Tribes Nationwide

Stewardship of the land is a sacred principle for many American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages.  For those looking to create a conservation strategy, however, it is important to understand early on that the terrain doesn’t stop where your land ends.

A bull trout habitat in the upper McKenzie River is one of five segments in the McKenzie where bull trout can spawn. Most of the wood in the photo is material added during a U.S. Forest Service restoration and enhancement project. (U.S. Forest Service)
A bull trout habitat in the upper McKenzie River is one of five segments in the McKenzie where bull trout can spawn. Most of the wood in the photo is material added during a U.S. Forest Service restoration and enhancement project. (U.S. Forest Service)

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