Farm bill passes with provisions to protect Native American resources

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Office of the President and Vice President commended the New Mexico senators for securing provisions in the Farm Bill that will help protect Native American seeds used for cultural, religious, medicinal, ceremonial and agricultural purposes.

Sens. Martin Heinrich (D – N.M.) and Tom Udall (D – N.M.) both worked on the bill.

The provisions, introduced after Udall sought input from tribal leaders, also expand tribal determination contracting with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), increase tribal access to international markets, provide equitable access to agricultural research funding in Indian Country and direct the Government Accountability Office to study marketplace fraud of tribal seeds. More than 56,000 Native farmers and ranchers operate on 57 million acres of land, creating a market of nearly $3.4 billion per year.

The Senate June 28 approved the Farm Bill with its trib-al provisions. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye called the vote a victory for the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation, most of which is classified as a food desert.

Since the beginning of his administration, Begaye has worked to support Navajo farmers and ranchers and to promote locally grown food. During public meetings this spring with the USDA, Begaye also spoke about transitioning Navajo Agricultural Products Industry to an organic farming site.

“The Farm Bill is one of the most important pieces of federal legislation when it comes to tribal agriculture, nutrition and conservation,” Begaye said. “We thank New Mexico senators for supporting our Navajo families, our sovereignty and our traditional way of life, including our efforts to preserve traditional foods.”

For the last three years, Vice President Jonathan Nez has engaged in critical discussions about food sovereignty and efforts to grow more organic crops. The annual Diné Bich’iiya’ Food Summit provides a forum to promote health and wellness on the Navajo Nation, as well as traditional farming and gardening techniques.

“It is essential for us to grow and preserve our tribal seeds, not just to increase health and nutrition today but also to pass on to future generations so they can remain connected to their culture,” Nez said. “There is a big movement throughout the country right now — not just in Indian country — to return to organic foods. We know the future craze will be indigenous foods, and if our seeds are protected we can compete in the global market.”

Other tribal provisions in the Farm Bill include:

Authorization of $5 million to establish a tribal self-determination demonstration project within the Food Distribution Program on Indian reservations.

Creation of a permanent tribal advisory committee within the USDA to provide technical assistance, guidance, and direction on polices implemented by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Office of Tribal Relations.

Enhanced grant and research opportunities for tribal colleges and universities.

Continued access to resources and technical assistance through the Tribal Promise Zone initiative.

Greater participation from Native farmers and ranchers on international trade missions, allowing them the opportunity to sell traditional crops in the international market.

Creation of a permanent Rural Development Tribal Technical Assistance Office.

Information provided by the Office of the President and VP

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