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USDA Joins Tribal Leaders for Historic Meeting

This February I had the great honor of participating in a meeting on the landscape of nutrition programs in tribal communities.  The meeting in Washington, D.C. brought together elected leaders from 12 tribal nations across the country, as well as USDA Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Scuse and representatives of tribal organizations.

Nutrition wasn’t the only topic on the table that day, as leaders shared with us the wonders and challenges for those living within tribal communities. Elected leaders from as far west as Quinault Nation (along the coast of Washington) to representatives from Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians in northern Michigan, spoke of the beauty and tradition among their tribes, but also shared the challenges experienced by tribal youth, young families, single adults, and respected elders living on Indian reservations.

Native American Students Mentored by Forest Service Scientists

The U.S. Forest Service is working with The Wildlife Society to give Native American students a chance to work as research assistants for Forest Service scientists. Forest Service Research and Development funding provides stipends for living expenses for college juniors, seniors and graduate students during their mentorship, while the society provides administrative support and coordination.

The Research Assistantship Program selects Native American students who are interested in becoming wildlife biologists. They gain beneficial hands-on experience while working with a wildlife professional on an approved project. Five students have been selected for research assistantships in this second year of the program, which will last for approximately 12-14 weeks, beginning in late spring and running through late summer.

Investing in Opportunity in Indian Country

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska. Follow along on the USDA blog.

Earlier today, I met with leaders from the 566 federally-recognized Native nations who participated in the White House Tribal Nations Conference. This was the seventh of such conferences hosted by the Obama Administration, and built upon the President’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian Country and to improve the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives, with an emphasis on increasing opportunity for Native youth.

All told, over the course of the Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture alone has invested nearly $3 billion in rural development projects that have helped Tribal members achieve the dream of homeownership; improved community facilities in Tribal communities; made critical upgrades to electric, water and telecommunications infrastructure that serve Tribal communities and members; and invested in the Tribal businesses and entrepreneurs who drive economic growth in Indian Country.

USDA Foods Help Nourish a Culture

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska.

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.

If your tribal community is looking to donate traditional foods to serve at food service programs at public or non-profit facilities, the Service of Traditional Foods in Public Facilities memo provides guidance for organizations and institutions operating under the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Child Nutrition Programs (CNP). The acceptance of these donations is largely possible due to changes in the 2014 Farm Bill that defines traditional foods as including wild game meat, fish, seafood, marine mammals, plants, and berries.

Opportunities for Native Youth Available through APHIS' Safeguarding Natural Heritage Program

The land and our strong ties to the earth as humans are a source of culture and livelihood throughout Indian Country. Native youth carry the hopes of their ancestors forward, and many tribes have visited with me at the Office of Tribal Relations, interested in learning how their children and grandchildren can discover more about the world around them.  Through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Safeguarding Natural Heritage (SNH) program, the USDA partners with Tribal Colleges and Universities to promote youth exposure to agriculture, natural resources, and wildlife biology. 

Since 2007,  the SNH program has served as a 2-week outreach program for students 14 to 17 years of age, bringing APHIS experts—as well as Tribal elders, Tribal professionals, and university professors—together with Tribal youth for instruction and mentoring.  SNH students pay only the cost of transportation to and from their homes to the participating campus, and APHIS covers the cost of tuition, room and board, and laboratory supplies.  Tribal Colleges and Universities work with APHIS to develop workshops and trainings to help students learn how to safeguard the natural world within and outside Tribal boundaries.  Activities often include hands-on labs, workshops, discussions, and field trips.

Cultivating Native Leaders in Conservation

Recently, ninety Alaska Native, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian high school students came together at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia for a week of intensive education and peer-to-peer training about the impact of climate change on tribal communities. Organized by the Inter-Tribal Youth Climate Leaders Congress and supported by a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Environmental Protection Agency, the gathering included Jadelynn Akamu, Ylliana Hanato, Alisha Keli’i, and Aaron Knell from Honolulu’s Hawai’i Youth Conservation Corps and Forest Service partner KUPU, as well as a team from Juneau, Alaska, including Alaska Native student Sierra Ezrre and her mentor and culture keeper Carrie Sykes.

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. Through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) helps strengthen local collaboration and promotes a comprehensive, regional approach to landscape management.

NRCS recently offered a total of $24.6 million to seven (7) RCPP projects that will benefit Tribes:

Made in Native America - Exports Growing the Market

During the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) 71st Annual Marketplace & Convention, I had the privilege to host “Made in Native America: A Workshop on Native Business Exporting”. In this seminar, Tribal leaders and Native business owners came together to discuss the benefits and challenges of moving Native-made/Native-harvested products abroad.

“I believe as we start growing and working together, we’ll never have the poverty that we’ve seen in Indian Country,” says Karlene Hunter, CEO of Native American Natural Foods, during the workshop’s first panel. She continued by remarking, “You need to know your market. You need to know your capacity.”

Supporting Regional Economic Development Strategies in Oklahoma's Tribal Communities

Rural Oklahoma is home to many important tribal communities.  Among these, the Choctaw Nation spans over ten counties in southeastern Oklahoma, while the Cherokee Nation runs along the state’s northeast border, and Muscogee (Creek) Nation lies farther west.

These communities play a critical role in developing businesses, affordable housing, and infrastructure like water, roads, and telecommunications. However, these areas endure chronic poverty, limited opportunities and countless other economic challenges.  For instance, most of the 1,100 residents of Boley, Oklahoma – located in the heart of Creek nation – live on less than 25 dollars per day.

Earlier this year, I joined Leslie Wheelock, Director of USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations, on a visit to the area.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Talks Importance of New Farmers at Tribal Food Sovereignty Summit in Wisconsin

This month’s Midwest tribal forum brought together USDA state and national officials, including Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, to promote the growth of healthy food systems for Native Americans. The annual Food Sovereignty Summit was held at the Oneida Nation in Green Bay, Wis.

Deputy Secretary Harden’s speech to attendees of the summit focused on the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill. She said that young people need to be encouraged to make a living off the land. She also told the tribal community that USDA is here to assist and that we have a common goal of feeding the next generation. Deputy Secretary Harden is particularly focused on providing resources for new farmers and Native Americans well into the future.