In keeping with President Obama and Secretary Vilsack’s efforts to improve the lives of Native Americans, USDA officials last month signed two Memorandums of Understanding with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The intention is to improve access to USDA programs by tribes and tribal members.
The MOUs set up a framework for consultation, training, coordination, and the provision of technical assistance which will increase the amount of Indian land enrolled under USDA conservation programs through NRCS and farm loan programs through FSA and improve service delivery on those lands. Farming and animal management, grazing, ranching and related food and agricultural operations will be supported through improved interdepartmental coordination. The MOUs also support establishment of Native rural businesses, renewable energy development, and job creation.
Additionally, the BIA will work with USDA Rural Development to increase homeownership, home repair, and rehabilitation opportunities, and improve energy efficiency of homes on Indian lands through improved coordination of program delivery. Finally, the MOUs will complement the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) work with BIA to implement and administer the Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA) provision of the 2008 Farm Bill to increase affordability and availability of RUS-supported infrastructure on Indian lands.
Those signing the MOUs included representatives from BIA, the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rural Development. The MOUs also help further the objectives of the Keepseagle settlement agreement, which resolved a lawsuit regarding past discrimination by USDA against Native American farmers and ranchers concerning its farm loan program.
The MOUs will further improve the important government-to-government relationships and also the services offered between USDA, BIA and the tribal governments and the communities they serve.