Skip to main content

USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations Highlights 2021 Accomplishments to Advance Equity and Opportunity for Tribal Nations and Communities

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of Tribal Relations (OTR) today announced 2021 achievements that elevate the nation-to-nation relationship and promote equitable access to USDA programs and services.

“USDA and the federal government have a distinct relationship with tribal nations,” said USDA Office of Tribal Relations Director Heather Dawn Thompson. “We are embarking on new initiatives to reframe approaches to how USDA serves Indian Country and promotes government-to-government relationships with tribal nations.”

White House Tribal Leaders Summit

In November, the Biden-Harris Administration re-convened the White House Tribal Leaders Summit, the first held in four years, and a testament to leadership’s commitment to the country’s trust and treaty responsibilities and desire to strengthen tribal sovereignty as well as advance tribal self-determination. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was a co-signatory to several groundbreaking agreements on tribal treaty rights, Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge, sacred sites, native languages, and a USDA-Department of Interior Tribal Homelands Initiative.

Food Sovereignty Initiative

Also announced at the White House Tribal Leaders Summit, the USDA Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative (PDF, 86.4 KB) promotes traditional food ways, Indian Country food and agriculture markets, and Indigenous health through foods tailored to American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) dietary needs. USDA is partnering with tribal-serving organizations on seven projects to reimagine federal food and agriculture programs from an indigenous perspective and inform future USDA programs and policies. These projects will explore issues such as marketing Indigenous-produced foods, supporting seed-saving centers, a manual to help Native producers transition from cattle to bison, and a report on legislative and regulatory proposals needed to empower tribal self-governance within USDA.

Self-Determination Initiatives

For decades, tribal leaders have requested that USDA incorporate tribal self-determination policies to enable greater self-governance and decision making on USDA programs and policies that affect tribal communities. USDA has launched demonstration projects (PDF, 201 KB) in agencies of particular importance to tribal nations. Within the U.S. Forest Service, there are five Tribal Forest Protection Act collaborative demonstration projects that address restoration, fuels treatments, and range, riparian, and habitat health. Under a new USDA Food and Nutrition Service demonstration project, selected federally recognized tribes or Indian Tribal Organizations will be able to select and purchase the foods for their tribe through the agency’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).

Treaty Database

The new USDA-DOI Tribal Treaty Database, compiled together with the Oklahoma State University, will provide online access to tribal treaties. This database will assist federal agencies with implementing treaty obligations. The database will be publicly available, word searchable, and indexed. Users can search the database by tribe, state, and key words such as rights-of-way and hunting and fishing provisions.

For more information about USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations, visit

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit