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.

Resource Management

The protection and appropriate use of the Natural resources of the remaining Indian lands are of critical importance to the IAC and all of Indian Country. Protecting these resources is a part of virtually every project undertaken by the IAC. Some specific programs directed at resource protection include the Reservation Resource Planning initiative mandated by the American Indian Agriculture Management Act of 1993 and implemented by many tribes, some with IAC technical assistance. We have sought specific funding for this program for the past six years, so far without success.

Local control and decision making on the development and use of these resources is critical to their availability for future generations. A key planning element in off-reservation communities is the Soil Water Conservation Districts, which direct Natural Resources Conservation Service activities, create the long term resource plans and identify critical resource concerns. For the past seven years the IAC has been actively assisting tribes across the country in developing their own Conservation districts as a means of conducting appropriate resource management under local control. This effort has included a National Training session, hosted by the IAC, to build on past efforts in this area.

Also included, as a part of the overall efforts to protect existing resources is the effort on Irrigation system improvement. In this area, the IAC worked to get the first Congressional oversight hearings on Indian Agriculture, then followed that with several field hearings to supplement the Congressional record, then prepared a budgeting model, held the National Indian Irrigation Summit and is now facilitating the National Indian Irrigation Work Group composed of volunteers from throughout Indian Country. It was necessary to have the Congressional hearings, field hearings and accomplish the research for the various reports and models before we could clearly define issues which need to be addressed by all of Indian Country in solving the problems which plague this important program. Hopefully, with BIA support, the work of the National Indian Irrigation Work Group will provide real solutions to identified land standing problems.

Market Development

A stable and productive agriculture sector can be a major contributor to internalizing the overall reservation economy because many reservations are rural, agrarian societies. In order to make real progress Indian agriculture must produce both income and profit. Beginning in 1990, IAC researched the requirements for successful development of Indian agriculture markets and marketing efforts. Our research identified several barriers and identified a logical progression to begin national and international marketing of Native American products.

First, we needed to be able to identify true Indian production in the market place as opposed to imitations. So we developed and registered the “Made/Produced by American Indians” trademark to certify authentic American Indian products with enforcement by the US Patent Office. From initiation to completion, this registration process took over 5 years and involved both federal and private funders and eventually required congressional assistance with the Patent Office.

Second, a low level of concentrated product production prevents Native American producers from competing directly in the global market, and remains a barrier today. We need enough Indian production available to meet market demand once it is developed. The Cooperative Development project is the specific response to this problem. The IAC has developed model charters, by-laws and operating manuals to assist new cooperatives in incorporating, has established the Rural Indian Agriculture Cooperative Development Center, and is working with 56 tribes and producer groups to form cooperatives to increase market availability of Indian products.

Lastly, we need to bring Indian products into the international market place with high-value specialty products, whose worth is greater than competing production from other commercial agriculture sources. We have implemented a Market Access Program to bring Indian products and market enterprises into the international food and agriculture markets to access and develop these high value opportunities, improving profit margin without greatly modifying production techniques.

Federal Improvement

The IAC charter requires that IAC work at improving service through the federal sector. The federal government is critical to any potential improvement due, in part, to the federal Trust status of Indian lands and due, in part, to the government-to-government relationship that exists between Tribal Governments and the federal government. Constitutional and Treaty provisions, as well as the trust land status, specifically prevent State and Local governments from exerting jurisdiction over Indian reservation communities. As a result, services and opportunities for assistance that are common to society at large are frequently not available on reservation, unless provided by the federal or tribal governments. Early in the history of the IAC, the federal government did not work well on Indian agriculture issues and did not provide USDA service on reservations. Also at that time, the BIA was evolving into the social services organization that it is today, reducing or eliminating resource and economic development budgets in order to build social programs.

Using the long-term strategy of identifying and removing barriers in a progressive sequence, an early step was gaining the involvement of the USDA to counter the withdrawal of the BIA agriculture programs. The initial refusal of USDA leadership to address Indian agriculture dictated that we seek congressional intervention. To involve the Congress, we began with a series of congressional staff briefings and increasingly detailed ag-related testimonies before appropriations committees. This led to interest by the Senators and Congressmen and resulted in the several Congressional Hearings on Indian Agriculture, including the Joint Oversight Hearings held by the Senate Indian Affairs and Senate Agriculture Committees. Once the importance of Indian agriculture was understood by Congress, we were able to work through the Congress to include Indian specific programs in both the 1990 and 1996 Farm Bills, improving USDA work on reservations.

The American Indian Agriculture Resource Management Act of 1993, which is specific to BIA programs, was a project which began in 1990 when it became apparent that the BIA was rapidly de-emphasizing its trust responsibility to land based resources and that many USDA farm assistance programs were not available to Indian producers because of conflicts with BIA regulations. This Act was specifically written to remove the BIA imposed barriers to Indian participation with USDA farm programs while empowering Tribes to fill the void left by the withdrawal of the BIA. This Act was necessary to make the USDA strategy effective.

Only a small portion of our work at the federal level involves the Congress. In addition to the necessary statutory changes, many barriers exist which are just policy or procedure issues within the federal agencies. However, in order to attack those barriers it was first necessary to have USDA and BIA working together in Indian Country. Following the sequential strategy, once USDA began to work with Indian producers, we were able to identify those policy or regulatory barriers that did not fit Indian country and USDA was able to change them. Our projects in reviewing all SCS regulations, developing methods for establishing Reservation Conservation Districts, working out the details of various emergency programs, including trust lands in crop insurance programs, and especially our work at including Indian land-owners in the FSA voter roles and having Indian producers appointed to FSA state and local committees all follows the foundation laid several years before and is a part of the strategy of federal improvement.

The long-term vision is to have USDA services provided on reservations by professional USDA staff at the same level of service enjoyed off-reservation. This is not as easy as it sounds, because many USDA programs depend on County or State delivery mechanisms that are not available on reservation.

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