Advancing Indian Tribal Interests in the 2018 Farm BillBy John L. Berrey
Chairman, Quapaw Nation
quapawtribe.com Last month, I was honored to be re-elected as Chairman of the Quapaw Nation of Oklahoma (O-Gah-Pah), a tribe known for its many successes. Our tribal agricultural, food and nutrition programs are second to none in our community, and we boast of establishing the only U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified cattle and bison facility on tribal trust lands in the U.S. I am extremely proud of our Tribe and its efforts to provide nutritious food to tribal members, as well as to people who live in our surrounding communities. I have personally met several times with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and I believe his genuine support for tribal self-determination, combined with a great desire to feed the American people, are fundamental things we can agree on. More can be done by my Tribe and tribes across the country if we are provided the tools and resources to get the job done. In June, the U.S. Senate passed an $867 billion, 5-year extension of the food and nutrition programs offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The “Farm Bill” as it is known, is a sweeping rewrite of the hundreds of agriculture, nutrition, forestry, rural development, trade, and other programs and services the USDA manages. Historically, Indian Country has not effectively accessed and benefitted from these programs and services, but there are reasons to be optimistic that this time around Congress will make tribes true partners in enacting a robust Farm Bill. In engineering Senate passage, Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) dealt with controversial amendments dealing with exports to Cuba as well as attempts to limit the President’s authority to levy tariffs on foreign imports; both of these amendments could have spelled trouble for the fate of the Senate bill. The result was a resounding 86-11 vote in favor of the bill; a bi-partisan vote that is rarely seen these days in Washington. Days earlier, the House passed its own version of the Farm Bill on a party-line vote of 213-211. Probably most controversial, the House bill conditions participation in the federal food stamps program (now called the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”) on the fulfillment of new work requirements pushed by the Trump Administration and House Republican leadership.
The Senate’s Version of a Farm BillThe Senate-passed bill has many of the provisions originally included in the “Cultivating Resources, Opportunity, Prosperity, and Sustainability (CROPS) for Indian Country Act,” developed by Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman John Hoeven (R-ND) and Vice Chairman Tom Udall (D-NM). This bill was approved by that Committee in May, just in time for consideration for inclusion in the larger Farm Bill. The Senate-passed version has the following tribal components: · A provision to administer the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations under the contracting authority of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act; · Establishment of a permanent Tribal Advisory Committee to guide and advise the Secretary of Agriculture and the Office of Tribal Relations on tribal matters; · Establishment of a permanent Rural Development Tribal Technical Assistance Office to ensure tribes can effectively access the huge array of Rural Development programs like utilities, housing and business finance, and others; · Provisions to open new, foreign markets for tribal products by encouraging and facilitating greater participation by Indian farmers and ranchers in international trade missions; · Provisions to address food fraud by directing the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on the impact of traditional and tribally-produced food in the marketplace; · Language to provide refinancing authority to USDA projects in substantially underserved trust areas so that electric, broadband, and water infrastructure improvements can be undertaken; and · Robust provisions regarding research and community facilities for Tribal Colleges and Universities; and others.