Opinion: Indian Agriculture Act could bolster tribal economies

"The Intertribal Agriculture Council, formed in 1987, has now celebrated its 25th anniversary. According to its Executive Director, Ross Racine of Montana the mission is “To provide a unified effort to promote Indian Agriculture for the benefit of Indian People.” The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, under the leadership of Chairman Tex Hall from North Dakota, also embraces agriculture as one of the best ways to break the cycle of poverty and provide a path to upward mobility for Indian Reservations in the Northern Plans.

The Great Plains Association has proposed an Indian Agriculture Act that would include a Development Trust Fund designed to spur their agriculture economy. The Trust Fund would focus on agriculture and provide grants by USDA designed to improve infrastructure on the Reservations, establish or expand irrigation, start farming operations and value added agriculture business. It would also fund extension services by Indian colleges and land-grant universities to serve Indian Country.

Michael Jandreau is Chairman of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and also Chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee for the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association. According to Chairman Jandreau, “focusing on agriculture represents the best possible approach to re-establishing a sustainable life style for rural Tribes and Indian people.” Lower Brule has established a Lower Brule Farm Corporation that now has 8,000 acres under irrigation and 40,000 acres for grazing and feed. They have also started Lakota Foods to market value added foods produced on the Reservation. (See: www.lakotafoods.com for gift baskets.)

The Great Plains Tribal Association has put forward an interesting idea on how to capitalize an Agriculture Development Trust Fund. The great dams on the Missouri River generate electricity and revenue for the federal government. While the dams flooded the Missouri River Tribes’ best land, and while the Tribes have the first right to the water, the revenue from the sale of the electricity is not divided or split in any way - even though it comes from the Tribes’ water and land. In fact, the Tribes actually have to pay for their electricity. The proposed legislation would split the revenue from the sale of the electricity and use it to capitalize the trust fund."

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