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A Tribute to American Indian and Alaska Native Communities’ Contributions to Conservation, Agriculture

Posted by Sylvia Rainford, USDA in Conservation
Nov 02, 2020
Adam Turtle gallops toward a roped cow
Adam Turtle gallops toward a roped cow.

Did you know that Alaska is home to 229 federally recognized tribes, or 40 percent of all federally recognized tribes nationwide? Alaska Natives are also the largest private landowner in the state.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture works closely with Alaska Natives as well as other American Indian tribes across the country to support their agricultural operations and to help conserve natural resources.

November is National American Indian/Alaska Natives Heritage Month, a time to celebrate, honor and reflect on the rich and diverse history, culture, and heritage of American Indians and Alaska Natives. USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency are committed to offering programs and services to help American Indian and Alaska Native producers and their communities thrive.

FSA, NRCS and RMA all offer a number of programs and services that help tribes. For example, in Alaska, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to Alaska Natives on seasonal high tunnels – plastic-covered structures that lengthen the growing season – and forestry and habitat management practices. Read more in the Growing Partnerships with Alaska Native Producers page.

On-going projects with Alaska Native communities include high tunnels, trails for subsistence hunting and gathering, forestry management, and wildlife habitat improvements for moose. Read more about NRCS work with Alaska Natives.

Burns Paiute Tribal Vice-Chair Eric Hawley observes the new growth along the banks of Big Creek
Burns Paiute Tribal Vice-Chair Eric Hawley observes the new growth along the banks of Big Creek.

Burns Paiute Tribe, Oregon

The Burns Paiute Tribe in eastern Oregon is an active conservation partner with NRCS and FSA. Since 2007, the Burns Paiute has worked with FSA and NRCS to carry out many conservation practices on 1,700 acres the tribe owns. The Burns Paiute used several conservation programs to enhance waterways and wet meadows, establish native plant species, remove invasive species and enhance wildlife habitat for big games and birds. Read more in the Fridays on the Farm: Commitment to Habitat Renewal page.

Bill Borgeld, NRCS, with Rosebud Schneider and Joe VanAlstine from Ziibimijwang Farm in October 2019
Bill Borgeld, NRCS, with Rosebud Schneider and Joe VanAlstine from Ziibimijwang Farm in October 2019. High tunnels extend the farm’s growing season as well as improve plant and soil quality.

Little Traverse Bands of Odawa, Michigan

The Little Traverse Bands of Odawa in Michigan link its past and future through the Ziibimijwang Farm in Emmet County. The Little Traverse Bands of Odawa’s goal for its 311-acre farm is to achieve food sovereignty and increase the number of new tribal farmers. The tribe chose Ziibimijwang (“the place where food grows near the river”) for its farm name because of its location near the Carp River.

The Little Traverse Bands of Odawa used EQIP to fund a high tunnel to grow food for the tribe and to sell to nearby restaurants. Read more in the Fridays on the Farm: Reconnecting with Agricultural Heritage page.

Seminole Tribe, Florida

American Indians are the nation’s first ranchers and Florida’s Seminole Tribe continues that tradition to this day. The Seminoles are well-known ranchers who love cattle. Every Seminole owns cattle and the herd is praised in traditional ceremonies and songs.

The Seminoles also were business innovators. In the 1950s, the tribe created a cattle cooperative and wrote a cattle-raising agreement, a management plan with bylaws and protocols that is still used today. The cattle-raising agreement formed the basis of the Seminole constitution.

Today the Seminoles own a 12,000-head herd on behalf of the tribe’s 4,000 members. The Seminoles have used NRCS technical and financial assistance to plan and carry out conservation practices including installation of fencing for pasture management, installation of solar pumps, troughs and pipeline, and invasive species control. Read more in the Fridays on the Farm: Seminole Pride Markets Success page.

Nickolai Savage and Hailey Samuelson
NRCS partnered with the Native Village of Napaimute, a federally-recognized tribal government, to perform tree planting and soil scarification following a commercial white spruce and birch harvest. These practices, completed in 2018, will ensure healthy forest production and regeneration of trees for future generations. Pictured: Nickolai Savage and Hailey Samuelson.

More Information

More information on USDA risk management, disaster assistance, loan and conservation programs to help agricultural producers and private forest landowners can be found on farmers.gov. There, producers can find discovery tools and other helpful resources.

Sylvia Rainford is a Public Affairs Specialist with USDA. Sylvia can be reached at sylvia.rainford@usda.gov.

Category/Topic: Conservation

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