Within a month of his start, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue followed through on his promise to Indian Country to visit tribal leaders. Joining tribal representatives, Senators Rounds and Thune, and Congresswoman Noem at Oglala Lakota College’s Rapid City Extension Center, Secretary Perdue aimed to learn more about the topics significant to both tribal nations and colleges in South Dakota. When the meeting closed, one thought was clear: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stands ready to partner with tribal nations in their pursuits.
This meeting marked one of the first discussions with USDA blending feedback from tribal leaders and Tribal College Presidents. Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), as land-grant institutions, typically operate from a unique foundation. Out of 34 accredited 1994 TCUs, all but 2 are chartered by tribal nations, serving as extensions of these tribes to address community needs. Students attending these colleges and universities often find themselves at the intersection of western philosophy and the rich legacy of culturally-sound, traditional knowledge. As land-grant institutions, these schools also help ensure the United States’ food security.
During this meeting, Secretary Perdue reflected on the story of a young boy that walked across the beach throwing starfish back into the ocean. Told that the act was pointless, that the boy could never save every starfish, he responded by saying that the rescue mattered to each one he helped. Similarly, TCU graduates help to build maximum capacity for their communities, and USDA continues to support the mission of these tribal colleges across the country.
Since Fiscal Year 2013, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded over $1.8 million to TCUs in South Dakota alone. Innovative projects supplemented by these grants have included researching bison genetics to test for herd integrity, developing Head Start facilities and critical internship opportunities for Native students, and advising Native producers on culturally-appropriate, scientifically-sound land-management practices.
Called by the Administration to look at barriers to rural and agricultural prosperity, Secretary Perdue pledged to continue strengthening the government-to-government relationship between USDA and tribal nations. While this process is on-going, USDA agencies are already engaging with tribal partners to help make a lasting difference:
- USDA’s Rural Development (RD), whose role is being elevated in the Department to report directly to the Secretary of Agriculture, provides loan and grant funding to assist with housing needs, business financing, and utility infrastructure development.
- USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has collaborated with Lakota Funds to certify them as the first Native Community Development Financial Institute (CDFI) lender for FSA guaranteed loans, extending the reach of agricultural financing in Indian Country.
- In coordination with the Tribal Technical Committee, a subcommittee of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) State Technical Committee which provides advice on a number of issues within a variety of conservation programs, NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) helped fund a water pipeline and livestock tanks on 15 tribal range units on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Through this partnership, range units previously holding limited livestock water can better support viable ranching operations.
These examples are only some of the ways that USDA resources have helped bridge the gap between need and opportunity. Our response to USDA’s trust responsibility, like our response to customer service, cannot be in name only. We look forward to supporting tribes, tribal organizations, and tribal citizens as they pursue their goals. If you are interested in learning more, we encourage you to contact the Office of Tribal Relations at (202) 205-2249.
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Steps taken by President Trump to work together with their Indians in South Dakota to promote agricultural Developments is very commendable.
While this initiative is very commendable and needed, there are many questions about Secretary Perdue and the United States Department of Agriculture's plan to help Indian Country. First, what is the curriculum that would be taught by these TCU's pertaining to agriculture? Would there be courses on credit and capital management? Currently, Indian farmers struggle with credit because the tribes lack the assistance and education to adequately address financial issues and loan servicing. Furthermore, what will be done past education? Indian Farmers are negatively impacted by their classification under agriculture laws and regulation. Indian tribes are not considered on the same level as states which prevents Indian tribes from having an equal say in the formulation of these regulations. A simple way to increase the opportunity of input would be to including "Tribal Governments" in current intergovernmental approaches through the USDA would help expand the reach of these governments to the tribal communities and farmers. While Secretary Perdue's commitment to Indian Country is commendable, promises are not enough to fix the disparity among Indian communities in agriculture.
@Stephanie Willis - thank you for your thoughtful comments. Tribal Colleges and Universities, particularly as 1994-designated land-grant institutions, are in a unique position to translate culturally-relevant research to technical assistance for tribal communities and Native producers. As you know, colleges and universities set their curriculum based on their needs and priorities. USDA stands committed to support continued agricultural based learning. For example, in partnership with the Farm Service Agency (FSA), and the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, the Office of Tribal Relations is engaging with our tribal college partners to develop training and career-focused opportunities for Native students. Focus areas include topics such as agricultural economics, financial management and agricultural marketing and value chain course work.
Additionally, the Farm Service Agency has a very useful website that contains a useful guide both for those interested in getting a loan and another for existing borrowers who may seek loan servicing that can be found at www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/farm-loan-programs/index.
Conversations with Tribal governments are on-going and part of a larger dialogue on how we can promote a more customer service-oriented focus for Indian Country. We honor and appreciate the value of the formal consultation process as well as ongoing informal communications. Agencies throughout USDA regularly engage in coordinated efforts to hear from Tribal Leaders, Tribal based organizations and citizens, and welcome the opportunity to further these conversations, including through regular, timely and meaningful consultation with tribal nations. The USDA Office of Tribal Relations is available as a resource for more information on USDA programs and services. Please feel free to contact us at (202) 205-2249 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any other questions.
---Ben Keel, Director of Tribal Relations