USDA announces renewed partnership with tribal colleges and historic realignment

For nearly 30 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and tribal land-grant colleges and universities have partnered to prepare the next generation of agriculture professionals in Indian Country. USDA is honored to renew its memorandum of agreement with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, which represents the 36 federally recognized tribal colleges and universities designated as land-grants.

“Tribal colleges and universities play an essential role with our tribal nations, and for USDA.” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA is working with our tribal college partners to strengthen these institutions and educate tomorrow’s Indigenous leaders.”

“We are looking forward to the momentum that will grow from this Memorandum of Agreement with USDA,” said David Yarlott, Chair of the AIHEC Board of Directors and President, Little Big Horn College. “Seventy-five percent of Indian Country is either forested or agriculture lands, and nowhere else in America do extension and other land-grant programs hold greater potential for benefit. Today’s agreement is a springboard for action and new partnerships with USDA in the years ahead. We are ready to get to work.”

Through the new agreement , USDA and AIHEC will work together to make USDA programs and services more accessible to tribal colleges and universities. The agreement also recognizes the importance of Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge in agriculture and federal land management, and builds on USDA’s work to support Indigenous knowledge research with tribal colleges and associations.

Tribal colleges offer the distinctive land-grant mix of research, education and extension, while framing that education in the context of Native American history, Indigenous knowledge and traditions, and tribal self-determination. Today there are 36 federally recognized tribal colleges and universities designated as land-grants.

In addition, USDA is pleased to announce the Fiscal Year 2023 scholarship application cycle for the USDA Tribal Scholars Program, with first-ever e-applications. The next generation of tribal agriculture professionals starts with the USDA Tribal Scholars program. The program provides full tuition, fees, books, a housing stipend, and workforce training to students pursuing degrees in agriculture, food, natural resource sciences, or related academic disciplines. The Tribal Scholars Program is a unique fast-track career path. When the student has completed the scholarship requirements, USDA may convert the student to a permanent employee without further competition. Eligible applicants include graduating high school seniors, full-time students currently enrolled at a 1994 land grant tribal college or university, or recent graduates of one of these schools. The application deadline is April 10, 2023. Apply online and email for further information.

USDA also announces, in direct response to tribal requests, the USDA Tribal College Program has been relocated to USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations. Under the leadership of the OTR Director Heather Dawn Thompson and the Tribal College Program Director Lawrence Shorty, this historic move honors the nation-to-nation relationship in that tribal colleges are owned directly by tribal nations. Further it will improve the efficiency and coordination with Indian tribes to benefit tribal economic development opportunities, workforce development, and tribal and national food security. This realignment is among USDA’s efforts to better serve tribal governments, citizens, and organizations and honor our nation’s trust and treaty responsibility.

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