SHIPROCK, N.M. - Agriculture agents from New Mexico State University (NMSU), Diné College, Navajo Technical College and the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture agree there is a greater need for Cooperative Extension services on the Navajo Reservation than they are able to address.
To help resolve the problem, New Mexico legislators Rep. Ray Begaye, D-San Juan County, and Sen. Lynda Lovejoy, D-McKinley County, provided leadership in the appropriation of funds to establish the Northern Tribal Extension Center in Shiprock and the Eastern Tribal Extension Center in Crownpoint.
While the original legislative bills requested $1.2 million to establish five proposed Tribal Extension Centers in tribal communities, NMSU administrators are pleased that some funding was obtained.
"The funding made available this year will be enough to get started with the establishment of our first two Tribal Extension Centers in partnerships with Diné College in Shiprock and Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint," said NMSU Vice Provost for Outreach Services Paul Gutierrez, who also serves as associate dean and associate director of Cooperative Extension at NMSU.
Begaye said the aspect of the Tribal Extension program that attracted his support is that it goes beyond the methodology of farming and farm products. "It will integrate the traditional lifestyle of tribes and pueblos," he said.
"Dealing with NMSU staff on the Extension program, I find that they have the capability and expertise to work with and expand the efforts of the current agricultural agents with a combination of traditional ways such as a reintegration of farming lifestyle, looking at water issues in cultivation and working with farmers regarding market availability," said Begaye.
During a recent Tribal Extension Task Force meeting in Shiprock, Gutierrez said, "We want to work with the various agencies and form a more comprehensive effort with all of the ongoing efforts and see if we can focus on the most important needs.
"Right now there are a lot of people doing work in Navajo Country but it's a big area and there are a lot of needs and opportunities. It's difficult to work together because everyone is being pulled in so many directions. We feel that Tribal Extension Centers will help provide some continuity," Gutierrez said.
The legislative appropriation will establish two full-time agents and staff for the Shiprock center, and one full-time agent and staff at Crownpoint.
The task force formed three action teams - organizational, program and legislative - to get the Tribal Extension Centers organized and running by the end of the summer.
The organizational team will address the formal partnerships that will contribute resources such as funding and office space.
The program team will identify current and near future opportunities for Extension programs, events, projects and activities in Navajo Country and Northwestern New Mexico. The team is divided into three areas: agriculture and natural resources; family, health and well being; and youth.
The teams will develop two to three priorities in each program area and are encouraged to get input from community members. "An important goal or purpose of the program teams will be to develop a strategic plan that reflects the assessed needs of individuals and communities," Gutierrez said.
The legislative team will develop a strategic plan for the Northern Pueblos to cultivate relationships with legislators and educate constituents about the opportunity for Tribal Extension Centers in their region.
"Rep. Begaye made it clear that we need to move quickly and purposefully in getting these Tribal Extension Centers up and going by the end of the summer, with tangible outcome, so that we could make powerful presentations to the legislative interim committees in an effort to continue to pave the way for additional funding for other Tribal Extension Centers that we want to establish," Gutierrez said. "That is the goal of the task force."