Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan was invited to address the participants at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s 30th Annual Conference in Bismarck, North Dakota, earlier this week. During the presentation, the Deputy Secretary highlighted the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food effort. She outlined the critical connection between farmers and consumers and the importance of local and regional food systems to increase economic opportunity in rural America. In addition, Deputy Secretary Merrigan informed the audience that 50 percent of U.S. Department of Agriculture employees will be eligible for retirement by 2013. It is anticipated that many job opportunities and possibilities will become available. Therefore, USDA will be seeking college graduates with a variety of educational backgrounds to replenish its’ workforce.
The Deputy Secretary also met with tribal chairmen and tribal college presidents to hear their concerns with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and how the Department can and already has helped their communities.
Other keynote speakers included: Jodi Gillette, Deputy Assistant Secretary–Indian Affairs for Policy and Economic Development in the U.S. Department of Interior; Hattie Kauffman, National News Correspondent for The Early Show; and Val Kilmer, actor and composer.
The student conference attracts about 1,200 students, faculty and administrators involved in American Indian higher education. The gathering features a series of friendly competitions that test the level of student accomplishments in the range of learning offered at the nation’s three-dozen tribal colleges, located in 14 states primarily in the western part of the nation.