Curriculum Helps USDA Build Bridge to American...

Curriculum Helps USDA Build Bridge to American Indians

Curriculum Helps USDA Build Bridge to American Indians

Five American Indians on horseback in a snowy rangeland

In the United States, more than one in three farms benefits from a range of direct payments by the federal government, according to USDA statistics. But when it comes to farms operated by American Indians, that figure plummets to nearly one in 10.

Missing out on these programs—including conservation programs, disaster payments, loan deficiency payments and others—is one glaring example of how USDA professionals have long struggled to serve agricultural producers on American Indian reservations.

And it is one reason why University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Educators Loretta Singletary and Staci Emm used a SARE grant to develop a broad-based curriculum that helps USDA service providers in four western states understand the unique needs and complexities of agriculture on reservations. “It was important to design an educational program for USDA professionals that explained the obstacles that present themselves when trying to implement a USDA program on Indian trust land,” Emm says.

Along with widely varied cultural traditions, there can be entirely different systems of governance, land ownership and resource management from one tribe to the next, all of which makes administering a USDA loan, grant or conservation program daunting.

Reception to the 178-page teaching guide, called People of the Land, has been so positive that USDA agencies and state departments of agriculture in all four states—Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington—have begun adopting it, and its authors have had to print a second run.

People of the Land book cover

“We’ve stepped up our outreach efforts with tribes immensely,” says Clint Koble, director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Nevada. “We’ve made a much more conscientious effort in the last year than we have in a long time. A lot of that starts with People of the Land, which cleared up a lot of misconceptions.”

Particularly helpful for Koble and his staff of 27—all of whom have received training with People of the Land—is the section that explains how hundred-year-old federal policies have created huge land tenure problems, for example where a parcel of land given to an individual in the 19th century might have dozens of owners today.

“That really provides a tremendous challenge to American Indians who want to get financing, because the complexities of tribal land ownership can cloud collateral issues,” says Koble, whose agency provides a variety of loans.

To develop the curriculum, Emm and Singletary started by assessing the agricultural needs of American Indians on the 10 largest reservations in their four-state region, and by speaking with the agricultural professionals who serve them.

Further underscoring the importance of People of the Land, Emm and Singletary received a second SARE grant in 2011 to adapt the curriculum to the Navajo and Hopi reservations. Their work also earned them the 2011 National Extension Diversity Award, given to one recipient annually by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) EW05-005, Strengthening Sustainable Agriculture Programming with Native American Producers in the West , and EW11-006, People of the Land II: Sustaining Agriculture on American Indian Lands in the Four-Corners Region .

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Location: Idaho | Nevada | Oregon | Washington | West