Significant opportunities to support tribal self-reliance in farm bill
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The needs of Indian Country are great – but greater still is our resolve to work with Congress to advance the common good for Native American peoples and place tribal communities across the United States on a strong path of self-reliance. There is no better opportunity to support true tribal self-reliance than through changes to programs in the farm bill and the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

From food production and food access to issues of nutrition, rural development, and conservation, Indian Country’s wellbeing is deeply interconnected with nearly every component of the farm bill, one of the single largest pieces of domestic legislation in the United States.

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Every day, Native communities deal with severe realities – but we are working hard with lawmakers to improve them. For example, Native Americans face some of the worst health disparities of any population group in the nation, including the highest rate (1 in 4) of reliance on federal nutrition programs. With several of the proposed farm bill changes, not only will tribes be able to take more control over the types foods purchased for citizens who receive food packages to include more healthly, traditional, and tribally produced food, but also support the building of infrastructure necessary to provide more jobs and work opportunities in Indian Country.

At the same time, more than 57 million acres of Indian Country land are actively used in food production, reflecting the deep investment of an estimated $3.4 billion in Indian Country food production. While we recognize our challenges and are focused on finding solutions, we also know that we have so much to offer and contribute when we have a seat at the table working in true partnerships with federal and state governments.

We’re grateful for the bipartisan support we’ve received in both houses of Congress; members have listened closely to our appeals and have advanced several provisions that will have significant and positive impacts on tribal communities, producers and governments. Many of these programs and Indian Country priorities relate specifically to access and equity for tribal governments in relation to USDA programs, effectively adding very little if any cost to the United States taxpayer.

It is our sincere hope that, as farm bill conferees begin reviewing the multitude of provisions that the farm bill includes, that they will retain these important provisions for Indian Country continued in the House and Senate versions of the bill. 2018 presents an opportunity to have an immense impact on the ability of Native American peoples’ ability to feed themselves, administer programs for themselves, improve their communities and opportunities, assume fully their role in improving the lives of those living in rural areas and ultimately become more self-reliant and less dependent on federal programs and help build strong, vibrant communities across Indian Country.

Ross Racine is Native Farm Bill Coalition Co-Chair and Executive Director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council. Keith B. Anderson is Native Farm Bill Coalition Co-Chair and Vice Chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.