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.