USDA announces continued commitment to Indian country

One year after the reinstatement of the White House Tribal Nations Summit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is sharing its actions to better serve tribal governments, citizens, and organizations and honor our nation’s trust and treaty responsibility. The Biden-Harris Administration and USDA are taking steps to empower tribal self-determination, promote equity and remove barriers to services and programs and incorporate Indigenous perspectives.

“USDA is honored to work alongside the sovereign governments of American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal Nations,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We continue to make our programs and services more accessible and include Indigenous viewpoints in program design and delivery.”

In observance of Native American Heritage Month, and coinciding with the White House Tribal Nations Summit, USDA shares a comprehensive list of USDA’s Indian Country Accomplishments.

Here is a sampling of these efforts
USDA is removing barriers to service for Indian Country. USDA announces for the first time in history that a permanent Tribal Advisory Committee will be formed, opening regular access to USDA decision-makers for Indian Country. Authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, the committee will advise the secretary on topics important to tribal producers. The committee complements the ongoing government-to-government consultation between USDA and Indian Tribes. A notice for applications will be forthcoming. Per tribal leaders’ requests, USDA also announces that the Tribal College/1994 Program will be moved to the Office of Tribal Relations.

USDA is taking additional steps to increase tribal access to high speed internet through the ReConnect Program. USDA clarified that the long-standing requirement to obtain necessary permits and rights-of-way, also includes the need for tribal permissions when providing USDA-funded broadband service on tribal lands.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s is also working hard to ensure equity in their pursuit of tribal food sovereignty for tribal nations through the Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement program. LFPA empowers state, tribes, and territories to purchase local foods from local, regional, underserved, and tribal producers to distribute those foods to their communities. New flexibilities and a historic $100 million allocation to tribes will help address the disproportionate food insecurity needs in Indian Country and ensure a more equitable distribution of LFPA resources.

USDA is enhancing tribal self-determination. USDA’s Forest Service will highlight 11 new signed co-stewardship agreements at this year’s Tribal Nations Summit, and has a historic 60 additional co-stewardship agreements in process. Through the Joint Secretarial Order promoting increased tribal inclusion in federally managed lands, USDA and the Department of the Interior codified a policy to ensure that tribal governments have a role in decision-making on public lands. This policy enhances the protection of sacred sites and resources and incorporates traditional Indigenous values and perspectives in land and resource management decisions.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is also a leader in empowering tribal self-determination and has awarded $5.7 million to eight tribes for demonstration projects that give them more options to directly select and purchase foods for their Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations or tribal “commodities” programs. This is an important step to increasing tribal food sovereignty in the program and support tribal economies, vendors, and producers.

USDA is incorporating Indigenous perspectives in agricultural research and education. In supporting the incorporation of Indigenous perspectives in agriculture, USDA recognizes the importance of Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service is partnering with Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in North Dakota on a research program that integrates Western and Indigenous knowledge in propagating Indigenous plants important to tribes in the region. USDA is also partnering with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to fund an Indigenous Knowledge research track at their annual youth conference.

Earlier this month, USDA announced new resources and agreements, including Indigenous foods cooking videos, as part of USDA’s comprehensive efforts to incorporate Indigenous perspectives through the USDA Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative, which promotes traditional food ways, Indian Country food and agriculture markets, and Indigenous health through foods tailored to American Indian/Alaska Native dietary needs.