Thursday, December 11, 2014

President Obama's Call to Action to Support Native Youth

In his closing remarks at this year's White House Tribal Nations Conference on December 3rd, President Obama discussed how moved he and the First Lady were by their informal listening session with Lakota youths earlier this year:

And Michelle and I were honored that these young people opened up to us. But more importantly, we were moved because they were like Malia and Sasha -- just as smart, just as hopeful, just as beautiful. But at their core, there was a nagging doubt that they would have the opportunities that my daughters had. And nothing gets me more frustrated than when I hear that. Nothing gets me angrier than when I get a sense that our young people early in life are already feeling like opportunities are foreclosed to them -- because that's not who we are. 
So when Michelle and I got back to the White House after our visit to Standing Rock, I told my staff -- I brought Sally in, and I brought Arne Duncan in, and I brought whoever else was involved in youth and education and opportunity and job training, and I said, you will find new avenues of opportunity for our Native youth. You will make sure that this happens on my watch.

President Obama went on to address the steps his administration is taking. First was the release of the 2014 Native Youth Report (PDF). Second is the launch of the Generation Indigenous initiative, which includes:
  • New Native Youth Community Projects, administered by the Department of Education (ED) to provide funding in a select number of Native communities to support culturally relevant coordinated strategies designed to improve the college-and-career readiness of Native children and youth.
  • New National Tribal Youth Network program in partnership with the Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth. The Youth Network will support leadership development, provide peer support through an interactive online portal that links resources and tools, and empowers youth to become leaders within their communities. 
  • The White House, in cooperation with the Aspen Institute, will also host a high-level convening on challenges facing Native youth in February 2015.
  • The launch of the Cabinet Native Youth Listening Tour, which will begin next year as part of the President’s call to hear directly from Native youth on how to bolster federal policies to improve youth outcomes. In addition, the Administration will expand federal outreach on youth internships and employment opportunities across the federal agencies.
  • The first ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering to engage hundreds of Native youth in a day-long conference in the summer of 2015.  
You can watch the President's speech here:

Related Links:

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fellowship Opportunity - Deadline Dec. 5th!

Food Sovereignty & Human Rights Fellowship! Deadline is Dec. 5, so please act now and share with others! 

The Oak Institute for Human Rights at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, provides an opportunity every fall for a human rights activist to take a break from the front lines to rest and recharge in the beautiful state of Maine, all under an Oak Human Rights Fellowship. The fellowship comes with a stipend of $33,000, health care benefits, housing, a car and more, such as an office, access to the college’s computer and library resources, a student assistant and secretarial support. The institute always recruits candidates based on a theme, and the theme for this round is "food sovereignty and human rights," which includes the political, economic and environmental challenges of food production and food access by farmers, farm communities and the rural and urban poor.

Are you a candidate for this fellowship? Do you know someone who is? For information, see or contact Professor Walter Hatch via email at or phone at 207-859-5319.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Two New Native Food & Ag Publications Released

IFAI and First Nations Development Institute have jointly released two new publications that will prove valuable for Native American farmers, ranchers and food processors, as well as tribal policymakers. The reports, generously underwritten by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation through funding to First Nations, are: "Why a Model Food and Agriculture Code is Needed in Indian Country" by Janie Simms Hipp, J.D., LL.M. (Chickasaw), Director of IFAI, and "Maneuvering Challenges: An Overview of Food Safety for Tribal Producers" by Vena A-dae Romero, J.D., L.L.M. (Cochiti/Kiowa), a graduate of the LL.M. (Master of Laws) program in Agriculture and Food Law at the University of Arkansas, and the first Native lawyer graduate of the program since the launch of IFAI.

The publications are free and available for download from First Nations’ Knowledge Center.  (Note: you may have to create a free account to download the reports if you don’t already have one.)

DUS Arthur "Butch" Blazer Visits The University of Arkansas

Arthur "Butch" Blazer
USDA Deputy Under Secretary Arthur "Butch" Blazer (Mescalaro Apache) will be at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville campus on Friday, November 20th. The highlight of his visit will be a freeform lunch talk with students, which will cover topics ranging from climate change to conservation and sustainability, to USDA career possibilities in various disciplines.

The talk will be held 11:30 am - 1 pm in the Six Pioneers room in the Law Building. Sandwiches and chips will be available.

Butch Blazer was the first Native American to hold the position of State Forester of New Mexico.  During his tenure, Butch was also named as Chair of the Council of Western State Foresters and Co-Chair for the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition. He is the former owner of Blazer Conservation Connections, a natural resources based consulting company that specialized in connecting clients with the resources needed to enhance and protect the environment.  He was also a co-founder of the Native American Fish & Wildlife Society, and has served on their Board of Directors and as the organization's National President. A member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, Butch has been intimately involved in Tribal issues throughout his life.

Download the event flyer.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Upcoming scholarship opportunities

Calling all youth! Scholarship application season is upon us, and there are some exciting opportunities out there for Native American students. Details about the different application processes for these opportunities can be found at the links below. Good luck!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Intertribal Agriculture Council Essay Contest: Still time to get essays in!

Intertribal Agriculture Council's annual Youth Essay Contest is still open for entries! This year's theme is "Feeding the Future & Filling the Age Gap in Indian Agriculture," and each of the three winners will receive an all-expenses paid trip for themselves and an adult chaperone to attend the 2014 IAC Membership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada.

More information about essay requirements, including submission guidelines and information, can be found on IAC's website. This year's theme focuses in on an extremely important issue for Indian Country: the most recent National Ag Census reported that out of 71,947 American Indian and Alaska Native operators, only 6,832 of them were under the age of thirty-five. With the average age of the Native farmer-- and all farmers-- continuing to rise, an influx of younger operators will be crucial to the future of Indian Country agriculture.

Fortunately, we know some amazing youth with the courage to lead who are already doing great work for Indian Country agriculture-- we hope to see many essay contest entries from our first class of Summit participants!

The deadline for entries is November 1st, so get those essays in soon!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Intertribal National Food Systems Scan

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law is embarking on an intertribal national scan of community-based food system innovations, a project generously funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The first step of that project kicked off today with the launch of an online survey to gather information on projects and programs throughout Indian Country that represent a significant shift from the way food is primarily grown, produced, distributed or consumed. 

Anyone with knowledge of such programs – including projects they themselves have initiated or are involved with – is welcome to complete the survey. The Initiative hopes that this scan will inform Tribal governments, Tribal nonprofits, and others involved in food systems work, enabling them to learn from each other and draw from a working, living document that will facilitate more broadly shared information between Tribes. There are exciting things happening in Indian Country food systems; sharing with one another is a means to more broadly support one another and contribute to the intertribal conversations that will help Indian Country food systems continue to grow. 

IFAI will continue to receive survey responses until Monday, January 12, 2015. The food systems scan developed from the survey will be available publicly in Spring 2015. 


Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Week of Celebrating Native #WomeninAg

IFAI Director, Janie Hipp (Chickasaw), attended a dialogue at the White House today, focusing on the future of women in agriculture. USDA, through Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, and the White House, through the White House Rural Council office, sponsored the talk, inviting stakeholders from across the ag sector to participate in a dialogue about the importance of women to the future of
agricultural production. Participants were welcomed by Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Harden of USDA and Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. In attendance were representatives from agribusinesses, universities, youth organizations, and nonprofit organizations, all discussing barriers women face in the ag sector, successful ongoing and past efforts to place women in the ag sector in leadership roles, and how to support future generations of young women in this crucial field. As IFAI's representative for this meeting, Janie lifted up the importance of Native women and their contributions to agriculture, both now and in the past, as well as the critical need to engage more of our young women in this space.

During the discussion, participants brought up the importance of financial literacy as well as solid estate and succession planning. The dialogue highlighted the troubling problem of the aging of the American farmer, both in and out of Indian Country, a problem that affects all farmers regardless of gender: the most recent national agriculture census data shows that the average age of all principal operators in the US is 58.3 years, while average ages for American Indian and Alaska Native operators and female operators are 55.5 and 60, respectively. Young farmers are difficult to find-- the census data's lowest participant category is for farmers 25 and younger, with only 10,714 young farmers responding. Panel participants at the White House today concluded that aggressive m
arketing is needed across genders to support all young people who wish to have careers in agriculture. Stakeholders from across the industry made suggestions about the recruitment of young women into agriculture, as well as continuing support for young men. The dialogue included a discussion about corporate stakeholders partnering with universities to create better mentoring and internship opportunities for youth, as well as corporations embedding support for young producers all along the supply chain.

Focusing specifically on Indian Country, Ken Auer of Farm Credit Council noted that the highest number of farms and ranches owned by women is in Indian Country. Auer also said that Farm Credit Council is currently looking for new and innovative ways to support Native women in agriculture.

One of the points made during today's discussion was that we need to be more intentional about elevating the honoring of dynamic women in agriculture. We're going to spend our week doing just that: we'll be posting, blogging, and tweeting about the amazing Native women in ag who inspire us-- beginning, of course, with the twenty-one incredible young women from our first class of Native Youth in Agriculture Summer Summit participants.

Discussions like this one only further remind us of the importance of programs that focus on our youth-- all of them. The future of Indian Country agriculture is theirs, and they deserve our strongest support. We need to highlight their accomplishments and imbue them with the courage to lead their communities.  You all inspire us!

Who inspires YOU? Let us know! Use #WomeninAg to join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook!

Friday, October 10, 2014

It's time to #FixFDPIR

Something is rotting in the state of FDPIR, and it’s cases of food.

Recently, an Indian Tribal Organization (ITO) for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) received a shipment of fruits and vegetables that were covered in mold. The pictures in this post portray part of the delivery of rotten oranges and peppers they received. Forced to return their entire shipment of green peppers, cauliflower, and oranges, as spoiled and unfit for human consumption, the clients they serve must go without—again. This is not the first shipment of spoiled food this ITO has received, and with a pattern of such poor service and no action by their Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) Regional Office, it is not likely to be the last, either.

These repeated shipments of bad produce would be bad enough on their own, but they come on the heels of a summer-long protein shortage in the FDPIR packages, a shortage that affected all FDPIR participants. The Mountain Plains programs were particularly slim on protein during the summer months, and while officials pointed to a nationwide beef shortage after an unexpectedly harsh winter, this protein shortage curiously seemed to affect only FDPIR, and not the other commodity food assistance programs also administered by USDA-FNS. The protein shortage follows months of shortages of most of the other foods in the food package; in some cases up to 30% of the foods in the package were unavailable for delivery and not on warehouse shelves managed by FNS.

FDPIR is intended to provide on-reservation support for low-income Tribal households who need access to a healthy supply of food. One hundred and thirteen ITO’s and state agencies administer the program for over 270 tribes and work with an average of 76,000 participants each month to order packages and maintain warehouses. One of the goals of FDPIR, as acknowledged by the National FDPIR Board, is to “improve the nutritional quality of the diets of participating individuals.” These repeated shipments of rotten produce directly contravene that goal, as does the complete failure of the program over the summer to provide participants with an acceptable variety of protein. A national supply of bison protein is available and moving to commercial markets around the country, yet including bison protein in the FDPIR food package has never made it out of the discussion stage with FNS—a discussion stage that has lasted now for at least four years.

This is not the first time Indian Country has received food from the United States government that is far less than adequate. The fraught history of the commodities diet, with mold-infested cheese and spoiled vegetables, is a not-too distant memory for many Tribes. For commodity feeding programs in Indian Country, it seems as though the past has unfortunately been prologue to the problems of the present.

We will not return to the days of green cheese and moldering milk. The problems in FDPIR are not the fault of the tribes; they are the responsibility of the federal government. The United States government as well as the companies delivering these food products have legal, contractual responsibilities to FDPIR participants to deliver food that is, at a bare minimum, safe for human consumption. Further, federal regulations surrounding the administration of FDPIR make clear that products that are spoiled and unfit for human consumption shall be replaced by the Department of Agriculture through FNS (7 CFR 250.13(f) and 250.13(g)).

If the USDA, through FNS, cannot carry out those responsibilities and fix the administrative problems on the federal level that leave warehouse shelves empty and force participants to go hungry, perhaps it is time for Indian Country to mobilize around this issue and lead Tribes into a new space that stands up local food production and distribution on a Tribal level. Moving to a SNAP system is not the answer: SNAP requires ready access to a vendor, i.e., a grocery store. That is an untenable solution for many people living on large reservations, where the nearest grocery store may require a 300 mile round trip. We can’t just throw a SNAP EBT card at the problem of hunger in Indian Country and expect good results, but we have lands and resources to build a robust system of local food production that feeds our people locally. Building that system will take time, but it is an important piece of our sovereignty.

How do we fix FDPIR? We see two choices: FNS must do the job the law requires, or FNS must instead support Indian Country as we begin to feed our own people. It won’t happen overnight, but the longer we wait, the more these intractable problems become the norm. No one should go hungry in Indian Country. This is unacceptable.

Do you have thoughts on how to #FixFDPIR? Tweet at us @IFAIUark with that hashtag.

IFAI Director Weighs In on the Importance of Civic Science

Initiative Director Janie Hipp attended a workshop last week at the National Science Foundation's division of Social and Economic Science. Janie was joined by other advocates, policymakers, scientists, and educators for a two-day conference focusing on the importance of civic science to the future of a democratic society. The program, sponsored by the University of Iowa and supported by a grant from the NSF, asked participants "to delineate what civic science is, to specify how it differs from citizen science and activist street science, and to generate best practices for civic science." Ultimately, the program organizers hoped to use this discussion to craft professional and educational policy goals. 

Civic science focuses on the values that drive scientific inquiry in public policy arenas. As a school of thought, it encourages scientists working in public policy areas to hone their relational skills and grow their ability to think strategically about a scientific inquiry that is interconnected with policy goals. The purpose of this type of civic-minded science is to help scientific discoveries come out of the academy and take root in the real world, where they shape policy and offer solutions to society in a tangible, practical way. As the Initiative's representative at the workshop, Janie was able to advocate for Indian Country and articulate the importance of the philosophy of civic science as applied to food and agricultural production for Tribes. 

You can read the workshop write-up here on the Huffington Post Blog, where it was featured earlier this week

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Native American Natural Foods Profiled in National Retailer Publication

Native American Natural Foods (NANF)-- maker of the delicious and nutritionally dense Tanka Bar, among other products-- was profiled in September's issue of the Costco Connection. Co-founders Karlene Hunter (Oglala Lakota) and Mark Tilsen give great insights into the development of their business over time as well as the history and cultural significance of their product, a buffalo-based protein bar.

You can check out Tanka Bar's write-up on their website, and you can read the full article here.

As co-founder Tilsen explains in the article, NANF's success in accessing a major national retailer like Costco is a critical step forward, but not just for NANF alone. This success showcases a range of viable business opportunities in agribusiness-- opportunities that do not belong solely to large corporations, but which could belong instead to smaller, Indian-owned companies like NANF and their suppliers. NANF prioritizes sourcing ingredients from Native producers. That should keep money in the community instead of allowing those profits to accrue elsewhere.

Currently, only 17% of the buffalo in Tanka Bars comes from Native suppliers, but when companies like NANF put Native operators first, it creates a dynamic opportunity for local growth in Indian Country. The more we see these types of partnerships develop, the more we begin to revitalize our community economies, keep food dollars flowing in-community, and preserve the rich cultural heritage that surrounds each Tribes' diversity of traditional foods.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Indigenous Peoples Day Event: Save the Date!

On this upcoming Indigenous Peoples Day (Monday, October 13th), the Initiative is proud to be co-sponsoring a roundtable discussion on the role of indigenous communities in feeding America and fighting hunger. During the discussion, we will be reflecting on the rich and diverse histories of the agricultural and food production systems of Tribal communities. As we move from the past into a discussion of the present, we will be celebrating the innovative ways Tribal communities are engaging in food production today. We are fortunate to have special guests from the Choctaw Nation, who are active innovators in this area, to share their work and further our discussion as we conclude the session with a look forward into the future, considering the many ways Tribal producers will continue to play a pivotal role in the space of food and hunger.

The Initiative and our partners at the University of Arkansas School of Law, the College of Agricultural, Food & Life Sciences, the College of Engineering, Farm Journal Foundation, and HungerU, are pleased to announce the following special guest speakers will be with us to begin the day's discussion:

Dean Stacy Leeds, University of Arkansas School of Law (Cherokee) Dean Mike Vayda, University of Arkansas, Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences 
Margie Alsbrook, Editor, Farm Journal 
Janie Hipp, Director, Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (Chickasaw) and Visiting Professor of Law, University of Arkansas School of Law 
Shannon McDaniel, Executive Director Tribal Management, Choctaw Nation Sara-Jane Smallwood, Choctaw Nation Tribal Policy, Director of Public Policy and Promise Zone Coordinator for the Choctaw Nation
Hillary Renick, J.D., LLM Candidate, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians Stephany Paige-Parker, Associate Research Professor and Chickasaw Nation Outcomes Coordinator, Deputy of Nutritional Sciences, Oklahoma State University

We will also be joined by student representatives of the Native American Law Students Association, the Native American Student Association, and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. 

The event will run from 9:30-11:30AM CST, and it will take place on our home campus at the University of Arkansas, UA Union Rooms 508-511. All are welcome! If a trip to Fayetteville isn't in your immediate future, don't worry: we will be recapping the event afterwards here on our blog.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Initiative Staff Attends 19th Annual First Nations LEAD Conference

A-dae Romero, graduate of our law school's LL.M. program in food & agricultural law, reconnects with former LL.M. colleague and IFAI staff attorney Erin Shirl and Hillary Renick, current LL.M. candidate and IFAI Graduate Assistant.
Pictured: A-dae Romero, First Nations consultant,
with IFAI staffers Erin Shirl and Hillary Renick
This past week, Indigenous Food & Agriculture Initiative staff attended the 19th Annual LEAD Conference, sponsored by First Nations Development Institute. This year's conference, held at Tulalip Resort Casino, ran on three tracks: Youth Empowerment & Asset-Building, Nonprofit Capacity-Building, and Native Agriculture & Food Systems. The programming for each track was informative and thought-provoking, and our staff very much enjoyed this fantastic opportunity to connect with people working across Indian Country to improve their Tribal communities and economies through a variety of innovative initiatives. We were delighted to make new friends and reconnect with familiar faces while we listened to panelists talk about the wonderful work that's being done in their communities now, and the work they have planned for the future.  We are grateful to the hard-working staff at First Nations Development Institute for organizing such a great conference, and to our excellent hosts at Tulalip for the beautiful venue.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A look back at our first summer Summit for Native Youth

On July 25, 2014, we had to say goodbye to forty-four amazing youth who attended our first annual Summer Leadership Summit for Native American Youth in Food & Agriculture. The students, who represented twenty-one tribes, came from all over the country to spend a week on our University of Arkansas campus. During their intensive week of study, the students met and talked with leaders in the food and agriculture industry, learning about risk management, food and agribusiness, legal issues, and marketing of food products, with a particular emphasis on the unique problems that Indian Country producers face. Over the course of the week, they heard from national leaders on each of these topics.

Northwest Arkansas is home to a wide variety of food and agriculture industries, ranging from the smaller farms at the Fayetteville Farmers Market, who sell food to a local client base, to larger industry leaders like Tyson, WalMart, and Sams Club, who sell food on a global scale, and the students were able to engage with representatives from these smaller farms and larger companies while attending the Summit. Throughout the week, they also worked together in small groups to create a business plan and proposal for a fictional farm or agribusiness. The Summit was made possible by our generous program partners at Intertribal Agriculture Council, FFA (formerly the Future Farmers of America), the Farm Credit Council, and the Risk Management Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Without their help, we could not have provided such excellent programming for the students.

To see some of their activities in action, check out this Prezi compiled by Elise Clote, one of our student leaders and Graduate Assistants to the Initiative:

Engaging the next generation of Native American farmers, ranchers, and agribusiness leaders is one of our primary goals here at the Initiative, as the future of food and agriculture in Indian Country is in their hands. It was a joy to watch this first class learn and grow over the week they were here, and we know these forty-four incredible students will continue to accomplish great things for Indian Country throughout their lifetimes. Stay tuned to our blog and Facebook for updates from the field as we keep up with our first class of future leaders! 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Blog in progress

This site is still in development. Check back soon for more content and exciting news on the Indigenous Food & Agriculture Initiative's future programming!