OPINION

USDA partners with Native Americans

Staff Writer
Story City Herald
USDA partners with Native Americans

—by Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

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.

The Obama Administration has been committed to increasing tribal self-governance and self-determination, making it possible for tribes to develop resources and improve infrastructure on their lands, and also create employment and business opportunities for Native American families, including veterans and youth.

As part of this effort, I recently announced $9.7 million in grants to 62 community-based and non-profit organizations, and educational institutions to conduct training, outreach and technical assistance for socially disadvantaged, veteran, and tribal farmers and ranchers. A dozen of those grants will support tribes. Additionally, we are providing loans and grants totaling $4.1 million to 1994 Land Grant Tribal Colleges through USDA Rural Development’s Community Facilities Programs. These programs provide funds to construct, enlarge or improve community facilities for healthcare, public safety and public services.

USDA will also support partnerships with three tribal colleges (Oglala Lakota College, Kyle, S.D.; Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, N.M.; United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, N.D.) by providing grant writing assistance and other services to help traditionally underserved communities access federal resources. We are also providing a $5.4 million loan to upgrade broadband service for residents of New Mexico’s Mescalero Apache Reservation. This is the first telecommunications loan USDA has made under the Substantially Underserved Trust Area (SUTA) provision of the 2008 Farm Bill.

As we enter 2015, we will continue to work with tribes on a government-to-government basis, consulting and collaborating with them, and striving to ensure that they receive their fair share of support from USDA programs—support that not only provides jobs and educational opportunity, but also honors our promises and treaty responsibilities.