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Tribal Nations Gather at USDA for Open Dialogue

In celebration of American Indian Heritage Month the U.S. Department of Agriculture today reported that there are nearly 80,000 American Indian operators on 61,472 farms and ranches across the United States. This represents an 88-percent increase over the number of American Indian farmers USDA counted in 2002.

And today, Secretary Vilsack welcomed tribal leaders and members from across the country to the USDA today to participate in a forum with Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and USDA’s senior leadership team. The forum was created with a goal of facilitating a dialogue between tribal representatives and the Department and to allow tribes to learn more about the wide variety of programs USDA administers.

Tribal leaders addressed a wide array of concerns and topics ranging from US Forest Service collaboration to water and utility resources in rural areas. It was a learning experience for the USDA as well as the native people of America have been working the land and practicing adaptive management techniques in agriculture for centuries.

Joe Kennedy of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe highlighted the contribution of Native American agriculture when he pointed out that two-thirds of food now in common consumption originated with native peoples and now that food – corn, beans, etc – feeds a large portion of the world.

Antone Minthorn, a Cayuse Indian representing the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, discussed the challenges of enrolling in NRCS programs due to the limited enrollment timeframes. Lands held in tribal trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs have an extended process regarding leases and the process often prevents tribes from participating in certain land resource conservation programs.

Tony Wounded Head, a council member from the Pineridge Oglala Lakota Nation, asked that the USDA provide more information on climate legislation and the potential for tribes to benefit from carbon credits. The Pineridge reservation has an unemployment rate of 85% among its 45,000 residents and he believes that carbon credits can ensure a strong future for his people.

The forum was held in advance of the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

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