USDA Rural Development officials joined Greg Bell, Lieutenant Governor of the State of Utah recently at the 2010 Native American Summit held in Ogden. This historic gathering provided an opportunity to meet with Utah’s tribal Leaders, and explore the means available for USDA to become a more effective partner in delivering services and addressing tribal needs.
The two day event began with a Ceremonial Opening Prayer led by the leaders of Navajo Nation. Shortly after, Jessica Zufolo, Rural Utilities Program Deputy Administrator, (RUS) provided an overview of the “Substantially Underserved Trust Area (SUTA) Provision,” contained in the 2008 Farm bill that requires the RUS to establish better terms and conditions for tribes to access loan and grant infrastructure throughout tribal communities. The Secretary of Agriculture in consultation with tribal nations, local governments and Federal agencies are directed to identify and subsequently improve access, and availability of utility programs administered by the RUS to substantially underserved tribal communities. Several communities fall in the high need SUTA category in Utah. Programs that fall within the SUTA mandate include rural electric, Water & Environmental, Telecommunications, Distance Learning and Telemedicine, and Broadband loan and grant programs.
Dave Conine, Utah’s USDA Rural Development State Director, was joined by Rural Development’s Business, Housing, and Community Program Directors to provide more insights into the broad reach of USDA Rural Development in serving tribal communities throughout Utah. The consultation session was facilitated by Jay Mashburn, Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Several Tribal Leaders in attendance spoke out about concerns and provided suggestions regarding the need to build cooperative working relationships with Tribes to better meet their infrastructure needs. Some of the suggestions presented include: expanding access to grant funds for all utility programs; Encourage local partnerships between Tribes and towns; Supporting local governments in extending services to Trust land areas adjacent to them that have no services; Consulting directly with tribal communities; and receiving input from all tribal members while respecting tribal authority; The need to aid Native American tribal members both on Trust Land and other places, and cutting the bureaucratic red tape. The exchange of information throughout the consultation will assist USDA Rural Development in crafting a series of new rules and conditions to enhance tribal participation in all of the utility programs administered by the RUS.
“The Utah Native Summit provided an opportunity for us to participate in a government to government consultation with the tribal leaders of Utah. The consultation process was designed to improve our ability to make the programs and services of USDA more available and more relevant for addressing the most urgent needs of the Nation’s tribes. I am pleased that an immediate result of the consultation has been a move toward resolving jurisdictional issues that, in the past, have been barriers to meeting critical needs on the Utah portions of the Navajo Reservation,” said State Director Conine.
The consultation with tribal governments is a serious commitment by the Obama Administration and USDA to make certain that the Native American population shares equitably in the programs that provide utilities, housing and economic development services to rural America.
In conclusion of the presentation, Ms. Zufolo said, “USDA is fully committed to helping tribal nations benefit from our loan and grant programs to ensure that tribal areas may build utility infrastructure and reverse the cycle of persistent poverty. The implementation of the SUTA provisions in the farm bill by the RUS will help every tribal community become economically sustainable for generations.”