Shortly after taking office, I joined other Cabinet officials on a visit to rural Southwest Alaska. We met with Alaska Native leaders and heard firsthand the difficulties facing Native Americans living in small communities in remote, rural areas. Since that time, this administration has worked each day to provide Native Americans with improved housing, better educational opportunities, clean water and sanitation, and the opportunity to create good jobs. Across government, and here at USDA, we’ve made progress.
This past week, I joined President Obama and members of the Cabinet at the sixth White House Tribal Nations Conference here in Washington, DC. In addition to serving as the Chair of the White House Rural Council, I am also a member of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, chaired by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Our priorities in Indian Country include promoting sustainable economic development; supporting greater access to and control over healthcare; improving the effectiveness and efficiency of tribal justice systems; expanding and improving educational opportunities for Native American youth; and protecting and supporting the sustainable management of Native lands, environments and natural resources. Read more »
This week marked the sixth consecutive year tribal leaders have gathered here in Washington at the President’s invitation to meet with key members of the Obama Administration, but this time is different: more than three dozen youth ambassadors were in attendance to kick off “Generation Indigenous” (Gen-I) – a new initiative calling for programs focused on better preparing young American Indians and Alaska Natives for college and careers as well as developing leadership skills. And it all started with the President’s visit last summer to the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota. The President and First Lady met with Native American youth and saw their promise, but also the challenges they face.
In addition to issuing a White House Native Youth Report, outlining past government shortcomings, current challenges and a path forward for Native youth, we will look at ways to improve educational opportunities for Native youth, including improving schools, and reforming the Indian education system. At USDA, that means we will be supporting the Generation Indigenous initiative by focusing on the support we provide to the Tribal Colleges and Universities, internships and other opportunities for Native youth, healthy food at their schools and at home, and funding for broadband, school construction and other community facilities. Read more »
Participants in the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin’s monthly cooking class sample the new recipes they learned to prepare, cereal treats with wheat bran flakes and zippy zucchini salad. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.
Cooking knowledge, proper planning, and access to healthy foods are essential ingredients to healthy diets. I witnessed this firsthand when I traveled to the food distribution center of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, one of the 20 Indian Tribal Organizations that received funding in 2014 from USDA’s Food Distribution Program Nutrition Education (FDPNE) grants. Their programs offer cooking classes, recipes, nutrition education and resources for Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) participants as well as manage a community garden program which provides fresh fruits and vegetables for tribal members.
Creativity and partnerships allow the Menominee’s innovative educational activities to serve as a shining example of best practices. A monthly cooking class combines instruction about basic cooking and food safety with interactive games and hands-on recipe preparation. The class is a joint venture among FDPIR, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Community Resources Center, and the University of Wisconsin-Extension. Read more »
Nutrition Educator Liz Easterling of the Mississippi State Extension Service leads a cooking demonstration of "farmers market salsa."
“How many of you like vegetables?” The question posed to a gathering of Choctaw children in a garden in rural Mississippi elicits skeptical responses. But upon sampling the fresh produce harvested with their own hands, however, the children’s stereotypes of disgust turn to surprises of delight. A young boy taking a giant bite out of a juicy tomato could be the poster child for the vibrant red fruit. A pair of sisters declares cucumbers as their favorite. The newly adventurous children are even willing to taste raw eggplant…Now that’s impressive.
Through a summer program made possible by a Food Distribution Program Nutrition Education (FDPNE) Grant from the Food and Nutrition Service, 150 children from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians were able to get up close and personal with fresh fruits and vegetables. Twice a week, children ages 6-18 from the Boys and Girls Club and the Tribal Youth Court participated in the lifecycle of planting, picking, and preparing produce. The week my colleagues and I visited the Choctaw Indian Reservation, the children scattered seed for iron clay peas, witnessed the hustle and bustle of a farmers market, and learned how to dice vegetables for a salsa recipe. Read more »
A tractor tills the soil among wind turbines in Oklahoma on August 13, 2009. USDA photo by Alice Welch.
In rural communities across the country, USDA Rural Development is bringing new energy efficiency and cost saving opportunities to Indian Country.
Choggiung Limited, a Native American Corporation in southwest Alaska, received a $20,000 energy assistance grant from USDA Rural Development to install a wind turbine at the courthouse in Dillingham – a Native-owned building and leased to the state – that has reduced its energy costs by 80 percent and is saving Choggiung about $20,000 a year. Choggiung is a for-profit Native corporation serving Tribal residents in Dillingham, Ekuk, and Portage Creek, Alaska. “This wind turbine marks a new approach to sustainable business management and renewable energy in Dillingham,” Choggiung CEO Doug Calaway said.
In the southwest, USDA awarded the Arizona-based Navajo Tribal Utility Authority a $100,000 grant to conduct energy audits that helped farmers, ranchers, and small business owners across the Navajo Nation make their operations more energy efficient and economical. Read more »
As part of the Diabetes Prevention Program, kids enjoy two hours of swimming before lunch.
With summer in full swing, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to visit Summer Food Service sites in Indian Country. Our journey landed us first at a Bureau of Indian Education school in Eagle Butte, South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation. Eagle Butte is about 170 miles northeast of Rapid City, SD and home to a Seamless Summer site in full operation, serving over 200 kids daily breakfast and lunch. Read more »