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Secretary Vilsack Reaffirms USDA’s Commitment to Support Tribes

It was fitting that the afternoon session of this month’s National Congress of American Indians meeting in Washington, DC, featured, as the lead speaker, former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today joined tribal leaders from across the nation at the National Congress of American Indians Tribal Nations Legislative Summit in Washington, D. C. on Wednesday March 7, 2012, where he announced investments of $900,000 for positive nutrition education and physical activity habits that can lead to healthier lifestyles. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today joined tribal leaders from across the nation at the National Congress of American Indians Tribal Nations Legislative Summit in Washington, D. C. on Wednesday March 7, 2012, where he announced investments of $900,000 for positive nutrition education and physical activity habits that can lead to healthier lifestyles. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

After leaving office, Senator Dorgan created a center for Native American Youth and remains an advocate for improving living conditions on reservations. At the event, Senator Dorgan urged attendees to continue to “fight on behalf of people living in third-world conditions to get them adequate housing, health care and an education system that gives Native kids opportunity.”

Immediately following the Senator, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack opened his remarks by crediting USDA’s Senior Adviser for Tribal Relations Janie Hipp, with “Opening my eyes and USDA to our important role and relationship with the Tribes.”  He said Ms. Hipp, who reports directly to him, has worked with USDA and the Forest Service to help them understand what true government-to-government consultation entails, noting that there have been thousands of consultations since the start of the Obama Administration, and Native Americans have had input on more than 60 regulations.

Agriculture Office of Tribal Relations Senior Advisor to the Secretary Janie Hipp (black and white coat) listened to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speech at the National Congress of American Indians Tribal Nations Legislative Summit in Washington, D. C. on Wednesday March 7, 2012. Secretary Vilsack made improving relations with Native American Tribes a priority by creating the Office of Tribal Relations, led by Janie Hipp. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Agriculture Office of Tribal Relations Senior Advisor to the Secretary Janie Hipp (black and white coat) listened to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speech at the National Congress of American Indians Tribal Nations Legislative Summit in Washington, D. C. on Wednesday March 7, 2012. Secretary Vilsack made improving relations with Native American Tribes a priority by creating the Office of Tribal Relations, led by Janie Hipp. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

It is important, said the Secretary, that USDA works closely with the Tribes because “You are America’s first farmers.” The Secretary said that as part of the Keepseagle settlement, USDA is moving to set up a Native Farmers and Ranchers Council, and is moving to address the challenges Indian Country faces when it comes to water quality, broadband service, homeownership and home refinancing.  The Secretary noted that many Native homeowners with USDA mortgages may be able to benefit from a pilot streamlined home refinancing program, enabling them to reduce their interest rates.  He also said USDA is moving aggressively to promote business development in Indian country with a goal of creating new, sustainable jobs.

In discussing the Keepseagle settlement, he said that “We take our responsibility seriously and are working to change the culture at USDA.”  There is strength, said the Secretary, in diversity.

In conclusion, the Secretary announced funding to improve dietary guidelines in Native schools, create health recipes, and provide healthy snacks and community gardens, part of the First Lady’s “Let’s Move in Indian Country” initiative.

To find out more about USDA’s initiatives to support Native Americans click here.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today joined tribal leaders from across the nation at the National Congress of American Indians Tribal Nations Legislative Summit in Washington, D. C. on Wednesday March 7, 2012, where he announced investments of $900,000 for positive nutrition education and physical activity habits that can lead to healthier lifestyles. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today joined tribal leaders from across the nation at the National Congress of American Indians Tribal Nations Legislative Summit in Washington, D. C. on Wednesday March 7, 2012, where he announced investments of $900,000 for positive nutrition education and physical activity habits that can lead to healthier lifestyles. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

2 Responses to “Secretary Vilsack Reaffirms USDA’s Commitment to Support Tribes”

  1. D. J. Peper says:

    I live in Mayes County in Oklahoma, part of the Cherokee Nation. Our FSA office is on the chopping block. The State FSA director held a public hearing in January regarding the possible closure. Delware County, also in the heart of the Cherokee Nation has already been closed and some of those citizens have been utilizing the Mayes County office. There are a large number of Native Americans utilizing our office, yet they want to close it. I understand what the 2008 Farm Bill says, but if you truly wanted to help our area serving the Cherokee Nation, you would keep our office open. There is also a part in the bill that talks about making FSA services easily available to the underserved/minorities. This will not be done if this office closes.

  2. D.Bartecchi says:

    Improving education, housing, healthcare and diet is a good start but it will not adequately address the underlying disparity between Native and non-Native farmers and ranchers operating in Indian Country, where 98% the of farmers and ranchers operating on Tribal lands are non-Natives. The distribution of land along racial lines throughout Indian Country is worse than South African before the end of Apartheid. And like South Africa, what is needed here is the restoration of land rights for people and Tribes illegally disposed of their lands and/or cash compensation to the victims of forced removals, namely but not exclusively, the Interior Department’s policy of forcefully leasing the lands of Native American’s they deemed “incompetent.”

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