|Indian Country Today interviews Patrice Kunesh, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who serves as deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development at the Department of Agriculture:
USDA Rural Development has invested in tribal infrastructure, housing, education and health, both in grant funding and loans. Is there anything that tribe’s can or should be doing to take advantage of what Rural Development has to offer?
I don’t think tribes are doing enough. Tribes don’t know generally what we can do in terms of our programs and in terms of housing, business and utility infrastructure.
One of the things I am doing with my colleagues in Natural Resource Conservation Services, the Farm Service, the Office of Tribal Relations and our Food and Nutrition Services is to spread the word wherever we possibly can. So as busy as this week was with our observances of Native American Heritage Month and the White House Tribal Leader Summit we are working with other federal agencies such as the Departments of Energy, Commerce and the U.S. Treasury, as well as the Department of the Interior, to let tribes know there is a whole host of support that we can provide to them that they may not realize is available to them.
To my great surprise and tremendous appreciation I find that Rural Development alone last year invested $660 million in Indian country. That is tribal colleges and tribal schools, health clinics and an abundance of housing that we have built on Indian reservations.
But more than the investments that Rural Development has made in terms of funding, we have really forged wonderful relationships with Indian tribes. And much of this work in the field has taken many years of developing the trust, rapport and respect of tribal leaders, and to help provide the technical assistance tribes may need to get the grant or loan application in to be awarded these funds.
What are your goals for working with tribes in 2014?
In 2014 we are going to be trying to establish significantly more partnerships across the federal government and with tribes. Our top priority right now is that we need Congress to provide a comprehensive multi-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible so we can ensure for all Americans, as well as tribal governments, that Congress is committed to supporting rural America and Indian country.
We need to put nutritious food on the table in Indian country and we need to invest in good food for tribal youth in schools. We need to continue improving infrastructure in tribal communities and that goes well beyond community centers and clinics – it’s about growing local and regional food systems to feed Indian people. It’s about reviving traditional foods that tribes have historically cultivated. It’s educating Native students at every level. So we have tremendous goals both in Rural Development and throughout the USDA.
Get the Story:
6 Questions With USDA’s Kunesh & the Need for Tribes to Use Programs
(Indian Country Today 12/9)