On March 22, 2023, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a roundtable titled Native Priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill Reauthorization. Participating Indigenous producers and leaders included: Mary Greene Trottier (pictured above), Mahina Paishon-Duarte, Madeline Soboleff Levy, Kelsey Scott, Ryan Lankford, Vincent Cowboy, Trenton Kissee, and Dustin Schmidt.
The roundtable discussions focused on Tribal self-governance and self-determination as well as credit access, risk management, inspections, and more.
“638” — AKA, Tribal self-governance and self-determination
Having “638”— which is essentially short for Tribal self-governance and self-determination opportunities — in the Farm Bill offers more tools in a Tribe’s toolbox for managing their food and agriculture systems.
“638 has proven effective in a lot of other programs … 638 does work. Tribes can administer those programs,” said Trenton Kissee, Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Agriculture and Natural Resources director.
Mary Greene Trottier from the National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations said expanding self-governance and self-determination in federal food programs can improve the programs’ overall quality of delivery. Improvements in the quality of food, increase consumption of culturally-appropriate and traditional foods, decrease the need for transportation, and stimulate local economies and markets are all possible through “638.”
Trottier also said the FDPIR “638” pilot program enacted under the 2018 Farm Bill does not offer much permanent solutions. The fact that the program is not permanent makes it difficult for Tribes and Tribal producers to plan for long term participation.
“By having the 638 expansion across FDPIR, it would escalate local producers to have that steady stream and plan ahead,” Trottier said.
Accessing credit can be a challenge for all producers, but Tribal producers often experience more difficulties than their non-Native counterparts. Tribes in remote jurisdictions are often unable to find credit. The Intertribal Agriculture Council is trying to fix that.
“I want to really highlight one point … and it’s we need to be very careful in our language use,. It’s not that trust land can’t be collateralized. It’s banks won’t collateralize it,” said Kelsey Scott, IAC director of programs.
While credit access is one major hurdle for Tribal producers, navigating the world of crop insurance is another. Tribal producer and Montana Farm Service Agency’s chairman, Ryan Lankford, said crop insurance is underutilized in Indian Country as collateral for accessing credit. With the industry’s volatility and climate change, crop insurance is not just a key tool for credit access — it is critical to farm business planning and long-term success for many.
Because of this, the IAC is working on expanding opportunities throughout Indian Country. Getting there will require greater recognition of Tribally-owned insurance companies as a key partner and collaborator, Scott said.
In the past decade, Indian Country’s food and agriculture systems have experienced much growth. More Native producers are entering the industry, and Tribes are building meat processing facilities, re-establishing traditional trade markets, expanding agricultural operations, and expanding their food sovereignty initiatives.
While this expansion has been beneficial for communities across Indian Country, getting food from the field to plate is still a challenge.
“A lot of these inspectors now don’t know our crops and don’t know how to inspect,” said Vincent Cowboy.
Ryan Lankford added, “We want to get our own Natives inspecting our own meat.”
The roundtable served as a great opportunity for Indian Country and congress to come together and craft solutions that will benefit citizens across the nation, Native and non-Native alike.
Watch the full roundtable here.