Economic and dietary health of Native Americans hangs in the balance with 2018 Farm Bill, according to major new report

Most comprehensive assessment ever written of Farm Bill risks and opportunities for tribes, Native American producers, and urban Native American communities lays the foundation for unified advocacy

Current efforts by the United States Congress to write the 2018 Farm Bill will have significant consequences for the 5 million Native Americans and Alaskan Natives in the United States. A new tribal report concludes that Native communities must be prepared to better advocate for their interests, defend programs on which their most vulnerable members depend, and look for new ways to achieve greater food sovereignty and food security through increased self-reliance and reform of federal policies.

The report, entitled Regaining Our Future: An Assessment of Risks and Opportunities for Native Communities in the 2018 Farm Bill, is the most comprehensive analysis ever conducted on Farm Bill issues relevant to Indigenous populations in the United States.

In recent years, there has been a growing grassroots movement within Indian Country to reclaim Native foodways and establish better food security. But federal policies alien to Indian Country continue to have an outsized and often detrimental influence on Native nutrition, agriculture, ranching, farming, conservation, trade and forestry.

“Today a food and nutritional health crisis grips most of Indian Country. As Congress prepares to shape the next Farm Bill, there has never been a more critical time for Native Americans to unite to defend our interests,” said Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) Chairman Charles R. Vig. “Tribal governments, Native producers, environmental stewards, and Native community members must work together to involve Congress in helping us solve this crisis.”

One of the largest pieces of domestic legislation, the Farm Bill is historically considered by Congress every five years. It serves as the primary vehicle for developing federal food and agriculture policies, including nutrition, crop insurance, conservation, commodity programs, research and education. The most recent version of the Farm Bill, passed in 2014, included $489 billion in spending.

The SMSC commissioned Regaining Our Future as an initiative of Seeds of Native Health, the tribe’s four-year, $10 million philanthropic campaign to improve Native nutrition and food access. The report was authored by Janie Simms Hipp, director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (IFAI) at the University of Arkansas School of Law and former senior advisor for tribal relations to Secretary Tom Vilsack at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Colby D. Duren, IFAI policy director and staff attorney and former staff attorney and legislative counsel for the National Congress of American Indians.

“We must be knowledgeable of and engaged in the improvement and development of federal food policy because it directly impacts our lands, our foods, our waters, our natural resources, and our economic development opportunities,” said Hipp. “Regaining Our Future sets the groundwork for tribes to work together from a common understanding and advocate for that most basic of human needs, the ability to feed ourselves in our own food systems with our own foods.”

In researching and writing the report, Hipp and Duren consulted closely with the Intertribal Agriculture Council, the Intertribal Timber Council, and the National Congress of American Indians. While Indian Country has historically not been involved in comprehensive Farm Bill policy discussions, these three organizations have been dedicated to advocating for and correcting problems with federal food and agriculture policy on behalf of Native peoples for decades.

“The Intertribal Agriculture Council has struggled to rally the support of tribes to effectively advocate for greater Native inclusion in previous Farm Bills,” said Ross Racine, executive director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council. “This document will serve as a new foundation for our ongoing efforts, working in partnership with the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, the SMSC’s Seeds of Native Health campaign, the Intertribal Timber Council, and the National Congress of American Indians to ensure well-crafted, effective, and thoughtful agriculture and nutrition policy.”

Regaining Our Future is available for download

About the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is a federally recognized, sovereign Indian tribe located southwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Making its top priority to be a good neighbor, the SMSC is one of the top philanthropists in Minnesota and donates more to charity than any other Indian tribe in America. It also focuses on being a strong community partner and a leader in protecting and restoring natural resources.

About Seeds of Native Health

Seeds of Native Health is the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s philanthropic campaign to improve Native American nutrition and food access. Launched in 2015, the $10 million campaign has provided grants to local communities and funded research, education, and capacity-building efforts. Partners include the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, AmeriCorps VISTA, Better Way Foundation, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’s Center for Indian Country Development, First Nations Development Institute, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the Notah Begay III Foundation, the University of Arkansas School of Law’s Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, and the University of Minnesota.

About the University of Arkansas School of Law

Established in 1924, the University of Arkansas School of Law prepares students for success through a challenging curriculum taught by nationally recognized faculty, unique service opportunities and a close-knit community that puts students first. With alumni in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, two territories and 20 countries, it has been ranked among the top 10 “Values in Legal Education” by the National Jurist magazine for four consecutive years and is among the top 46 public law schools, according to U.S. News and World Report.

About the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative

Established in 2013, the University of Arkansas School of Law Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative is the first of its kind nationally, focusing on enhancing food, agriculture, health and wellness, and business and economic development; youth and professional education in food and agriculture; strategic planning and technical assistance, research and publications in the areas of health, nutrition policy, traditional knowledge; financial markets and asset management; and tribal governance, law and policy.

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative is a strategic partner in the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s Seeds of Native Health campaign. With a leading gift from Seeds of Native Health, IFAI is conducting a landmark project to develop a long-needed, comprehensive set of model food and agriculture codes to be customized and adopted by tribal nations. Additionally, the SMSC and IFAI are partnering with the Corporation for National and Community Service to create a cadre of 21 “Native Food Sovereignty Fellows.” IFAI is recruiting, training, deploying and supervising the work of these VISTA volunteers in 10 tribal communities.