To provide a unified effort to promote change in Indian Agriculture for the benefit of Indian People.

The Intertribal Agriculture Council conducts a wide range of programs designed to further the goal of improving Indian Agriculture. The IAC promotes the Indian use of Indian resources and contracts with federal agencies to maximize resources for tribal members.

Beginning Farmer Sows Inspiration

IAC featured Shawna in the 2013 TA Network Success Story Publication. Here is an update to her story by Washington State FSA.

Beginning Farmer Sows Inspiration
Or How One Young Indian Woman Became a Cowgirl and a Business Woman

With two years left of school, Shawna Kalama has already embarked on a successful career.  It all started when Shawna had to develop a business plan for Dr. Leonard Black’s business class at Heritage University.

Shawna is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (north central Oregon) and a Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation descendent (south central Washington). She studies business at Heritage University’s main campus in Toppenish, Washington.

Her first thought for the assignment was to raise corn, but she quickly switched to beef.  Her family already had three cows and 40 acres of pasture near White Swan. Dr. Black’s class inspired the budding entrepreneur to envision a business direct marketing beef in Seattle. More than 130 miles from the Yakama Indian Reservation, metropolitan Seattle boasts nationally-recognized chefs and supports a burgeoning local food movement.  Shawna’s first  challenge was to become a farmer and business woman and then crack the competitive Seattle market.

She had a team ready to help.  Her dad, Bill Wiltse, and brother Wyatt Wiltse, were willing to assist Shawna with farm chores. Dr. Black guided her on the business plan.  His daughter, Jessica Black is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Studies at Heritage University.  In Jessica Black’s classes, Shawna learned about natural resources – the relationship between soil nutrition, crop production and the health of her cattle.

Shawna also knew Mike Shellenberger who works for the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC).  As a liaison for the IAC between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and tribal members, Shellenberger assists tribal members with access to USDA programs. He helped Shawna apply for a microloan with the USDA Farm Service Agency. With it, she purchased 20 bred cows and a registered Angus bull and started her business.

Shellenberger connected Shawna with the IAC’s “Made/Produced by American Indians” marketing program and label. This helped distinguish Shawna’s beef in the competitive Seattle market. Sales success led to a second Farm Service Agency microloan to expand the herd.  Shawna’s current herd consists of 30 adult cows, 40 calves and three bulls, including one of her favorite – Mr. Bull.

Herd expansion meant Shawna needed more pasture for her animals. Fortunately, Jessica Black’s Environmental Sciences class was experimenting with biochar for water retention. Biochar is charcoal used as a soil amendment.  Through a USDA grant to Heritage University, student interns grew crops to research whether biochar could help with tying up nitrates in the soil and reducing crops’ water needs. As a result, the class had a problem of what to do with cornstalks after growing corn and donating it to foodbanks. So part of Shawna’s herd became campus residents where they fed on the cornstalks. “The tame ones are at Heritage,” said Shawna.

The rest of the herd resides near Shawna’s home in White Swan, where she leases two nearby pastures.  The herd consists mostly of Angus cattle with some Holsteins. Shawna started with whatever was available at first but is selectively breeding for quality beef.

Jessica Black explained that Heritage University focuses on experiential learning. Students develop holistic projects.  They learn more than economics or science. They learn about culture, visions of self and how to operate in a sustainable manner. “Shawna typifies what I see in the students,” Black said. “She doesn’t just raise beef but is also a steward of the land.”

She’s also not the shy student she was the first year, according to Shawna. To be a successful farmer and businesswoman, Shawna had to overcome a number of other obstacles that would daunt many beginners. “I had zero experience with cows when I started,” laughed Shawna. “I had to learn how to have patience raising animals.  I had to learn how to deal with loss of animals,” said the young farmer, who names all her animals and speaks of them lovingly.

Her dad and brother taught Shawna how to work with the cows. They still help her with some of the chores that are difficult to do from her wheelchair. The chair doesn’t slow Shawna. She’s already planning to go to shows to market her Native American Beef when she graduates and is working with the IAC to design a logo. Her business acumen and work ethic inspired James McCuen, President of the Northwest IAC to offer the organization’s support as she continues to grow her business. Her team of advocates include her mom, dad, brother and her instructors at Heritage University.

“I want to inspire other native people,” said Shawna. “They can do this, too. They can grow food on native land and in a natural way.”

Chris Bieker, APR
Washington State Outreach Coord.
USDA Farm Service Agency
316 W. Boone, Ste. 568
Spokane, WA 99201


Breaking the Barriers to Self-Sufficiency

These success stories may seem small yet they are huge stride to get the Native American community involved with the many USDA programs that could help with their Tribes and individual operations. There has been so much distrust from the Native community and the Federal government that it has sometimes hampered the success of Tribal operations. Zach Butler has been breaking the barrier from the Native community and the USDA in parts of Oklahoma.

A meeting with the Absentee Shawnee Tribal leadership in late 2011 and early 2012 kicked off the efforts with a presentation on the services of the IAC and USDA and how to bridge the gap between the two. From that meeting, the Tribal Agriculture program was created. Contact was made with Pottawatomie County District Conservationist- Shawn Fleming; a meeting was set with the Absentee Shawnee Tribal leadership and Realty department to get a conservation plan in the works for the land that will be used in their cattle and farming operation.

A crew from the Absentee Shawnee leadership, realty representatives, NRCS, BIA, IAC and wild land fire fighters conducted a prescribed burn on Tribal lands for the cattle and farming operation. NRCS then started combing the lands and taking notes to help create the Tribal conservation plan. The tribe now has an estimated 65 head of registered Black Angus cattle and approximately 500 acres of Tribal and leased land for their operation.  IAC continues to work with the tribe as they develop the Agriculture and Conservation programs.

Since starting this position with the TA network, Zach has been able to help many Tribes and producers. He has been encouraging his own family to look into the programs and especially wanted to see his grandfather succeed as well. Zach wanted to help him with the 160 acres that he has lived on his whole life. He would see him struggle with the different daily tasks and challenges; well, fencing, and other aspects farm upkeep. Zach kept encouraging his grandfather to no avail, his grandfather developed a distrust over the years and just did it on his own.

Several months later, Zach talked to the District conservationist for Lincoln County and he learned that his grandfather had met with FSA and setup an appointment for a conservation plan on his land. The fact that he was able to reach a person from another generation; a generation that had another way of conducting business and have him ask what kind of help may be out there to help him with his land and livestock was a success. His grandfather was so used of doing the work on his own that he did not know how or where to ask for help. Zach’s own family experience show the need to have these new voices bridge the divides and help create these new relationships.

The success in the Southern Plains region has been slow but it is forthcoming. There are more and more producers wanting information on loans and assistance. The people want to get back into agriculture and taking into care of their own land once again. They are taking their lands out of lease and starting to farm and ranch their lands themselves. With IAC’s assistance, they are accessing the USDA system; creating conservation plans, accessing programs and seeking finance options. The tide is changing, the reluctance shrinking.

Zach says:   “I feel that I have made a good impression on the people in the Government agencies, in Tribal Governments, and individuals — I feel comfortable that we will be able to accomplish some wonderful things in Oklahoma Indian Country”.


One Determined Teenager

Devalyn is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee and a Yakama Nation descendant. She is seventeen and currently attends Toppenish High School and Yakima Valley Technical School where she is studying Physical Therapy and Occupational Medicine. Devalyn has been a member of the local FFA chapter for four years and is currently the Vice-President. While in FFA, she has raised many pigs for show and her families’ consumption. Devalyn is active in Rodeo where she competes in barrel racing, goat tying and pole bending she also rides cows. In the summer, she works for a local rancher as an irrigator changing hand lines on alfalfa and grass hay fields; this is extremely hard labor and many days reach over 100 degrees. With IAC’s assistance, Devalyn worked on a youth loan with USDA. She successfully purchased two Duroc Swine to show at this springs’ Central Washington Junior Livestock Show. Devalyn’s future plans are to attend college and become a part of Justin’s Sports Medicine Team. She eventually wants to raise rodeo stock and become a Stock Contractor.


Overcoming Adversity with Determination

Shawna is a 33-year-old member of the Warm Springs Tribe of Eastern Oregon.  She grew up on the Yakama Indian Reservation in White Swan, Washington.  As a teenager, Shawna was dealt a tough hand in life – she was involved in a terrible automobile accident that left her disabled and wheelchair bound; however, the accident did not deter Shawna in obtaining the goals she has set for herself.

Shawna became interested in her stepfathers’ small but successful farming operation.  She was interested in the management of the operation and was instrumental in using management software to track the successes.  It has proven to be a great partnership, her stepdad provides the labor and Shawna provides the brain. She convinced her stepfather to help her purchase some cattle and now owns ten cow calf pairs.  Inspired by the management of the operations, Shawna enrolled in the Business Management program at Heritage College.  She is currently excelling in these classes and is very motivated to expand her Livestock Operation.

In December of 2012, with the assistance of Mike at IAC and the FSA Loan Officer, Crispin Garza, Shawna successfully received a $35,000 Direct Operation Loan.  She purchased 35 Black Angus Heifers and 2 Angus Bulls and is well on the way to seeing her dreams come true.

Shawna says; “If it wasn’t for the outreach of the Intertribal Agricultural Council, I would not have known that this loan was available, Thank You Mike!”


Young Ranchers Lowering the Median Age and Bridging the Gap

In Montana, the median age for ranchers is 57 year old. With the support of a new FSA Farm Loan Manager; the TA Networks’ Anita Matt is helping youth and young families realize their dreams with USDA and other programs.  Anita worked with the National Tribal Development program from 1999 – 2005 and averaged 8-15 youth loans each year on the Flathead Reservation.  The FSA Youth Loan Program has competitive rates and a youth borrower can borrow up to $5,000. The Montana Department of Agriculture offered $7,500 for youth and markets forced borrowers to use the Montana Department of Agriculture loan program. Today, the FSA microloan program (loans up to $35,000) is a promising platform to help younger people get started with ranching and farming. The following is an example of successful ranchers bringing the median age down.

Madeline and Jason Netwig operate a ranch on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Starting with 10 head they wanted to purchase another 20 head and continue to operate near Charlo, Montana.  Their dream was to develop a home site and work with the Tribe to lease land for their operation.  In December 2012, they were successful in obtaining the financing needed to purchase cattle.  They worked with the Lake County Farm Loan Manager and obtained two loans.

Inspired by the Netwigs’ motivation and participation; Anita nominated Madeline and Jason for a scholarship to attend the Beginning Farmer Rancher symposium in Billings in 2012.  They were selected, attended the workshops and were subsequently selected to sit on the steering committee representing young ranchers in Montana.  The couple has been participating for 2 years.

Anita says “I am very excited to have been able to assist these young Native American Ranchers, its important and satisfying work encouraging and helping young people in Agriculture.”


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