On May 24th, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the appointment of members to the Council for Native American Farming and Ranching. The Council will include Mary Thompson, a North Carolina Farmer. The committee was created to advise Secretary Vilsack on ways to eliminate barriers to participation for Native American farmers and ranchers. The Council is being appointed as part of the Keepseagle settlement.
"The Council for Native American Farming and Ranching will help Native governments, businesses, farmers and ranchers and tribal governments partner with USDA to create jobs, drive economic growth and strengthen tribal communities," Vilsack said.
Keepseagle v. Vilsack was a lawsuit alleging that USDA discriminated against Native American farmers and ranchers in the way it operated its farm loan program. The Obama Administration worked to settle the lawsuit in 2010 and the settlement was subsequently approved by the court.
The Council will suggest changes to Farm Service Agency (FSA) regulations and also provide internal guidance or propose measures that would promote the participation of Native American farmers and ranchers in all other USDA programs and support government-to-government relations between USDA and tribal governments. The Council is a discretionary advisory committee established under the authority of the Secretary of Agriculture, in furtherance of the settlement agreement.
Those appointed to the Council include:
Gilbert Harrison, Rancher, (Navajo Nation), Shiprock, N.M.
Henry Holder, Farmer/Rancher, (Choctaw Nation), Soper, Okla.
Michael Jandreau, Tribal Chairman, (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe) Lower Brule, SD
Gerald Lunak, Natural Resources Director, (Blackfeet Nation), Cut Bank, Mont.
Jerry McPeak, Farmer/Rancher and State Legislator, (Muscogee Nation), Warner, Okla.
Lance Morgan, CEO of Ho-Chunk, Inc., (Winnebago Tribe of Neb.), Winnebago, Neb.
Angela Sandstol, Natural Resources and Conservation official, (Native Tribe of Tyonek), Tyonek, Alaska
Edward Soza, Farmer/Rancher, (Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians), Banning, Calif.
Mary Thompson, Farmer/Rancher, (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians), Cherokee, N.C.
Sarah Vogel, Civil Rights Attorney and former Agricultural Commissioner for North Dakota, Bismarck, N.D.
Mark Wadsworth, Natural Resources/Range Management, (Shoshone-Bannock Tribes), Blackfoot, Idaho
Four (4) USDA officials are also appointed to the Council:
Dr. Joe Leonard, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights;
Janie Simms Hipp (Chickasaw Nation), Senior Advisor to the Secretary, Tribal Relations;
Bruce Nelson, Administrator, Farm Service Agency;
Chris Beyerhelm, Director, Farm Loan Programs, Farm Service Agency;
Members of the Council are appointed for two-year terms by the Secretary. The appointees include: Native American (American Indian and Alaska Native) farmers or ranchers; representatives of nonprofit organizations that work with Native farmers and ranchers; civil rights professionals; educators; tribal elected leaders; senior USDA officials; and other persons the Secretary deems appropriate.
The Council will hold its first meeting this summer. It will work with the Office of Tribal Relations, the FSA, and other USDA agencies to improve the success of Native farmers and ranchers who access USDA's entire portfolio of programs to build and achieve profitability in their businesses. Under Secretary Vilsack's leadership, USDA is addressing civil rights concerns that go back decades, and today's announcement of the appointment of the Council for Native American Farming and Ranching is another step toward achieving that effort.
The Council for Native American Farming and Ranching will provide guidance that will ensure that all Native American eligible applicants for USDA programs are served in an equal and fair manner. It will enable USDA to enhance business opportunities for Native American farmers and ranchers, tribal governments and the tribal communities they serve, and those interested in improving tribal economies through food and agriculture production.
Under Secretary Vilsack's leadership, USDA has instituted a comprehensive plan to strengthen the Department as a model service provider and to ensure that every farmer and rancher is treated equally and fairly as part of "a new era of civil rights" at USDA. He and President Obama have made it a priority to resolve all of the past civil rights cases facing the Department, and today's announcement is another major step towards achieving that goal. In February 2010, the Secretary announced the Pigford II settlement with African American farmers, and in October 2010, he announced the Keepseagle settlement with Native American farmers. Meanwhile, Secretary Vilsack continues to advocate for resolution of all remaining claims of past discrimination against USDA.