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Tribes to gain better farm agency access through new agreement

Barry Hamilton, national tribal relations officer at the USDA’s NRCS.

It’s a more than 10-page document that can look intimidating. But the underlying goal is to improve assistance to Native Americans farmers and advance conservation efforts across Indian Country.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed by leaders of several agencies under the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) who are tasked with carrying out the objectives.

The agreement took place Nov. 6, 2019, during the National Tribal Conservation Districts Conference at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa in Catoosa, Oklahoma.

The Seminole Tribune asked Barry A. Hamilton of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to break it down.

He is the national tribal relations liaison officer and national tribal environmental adaptation coordinator at the agency.

How would you explain the basics of the MOU?

The MOU is in place to ensure that each of our signatory federal agencies are working collaboratively to address the needs of Indian Country.

By being aware of each of our agencies requirements and agency’s trust responsibilities to our tribes, we can streamline information and communicate more clearly on the needs and concerns of our tribes and Native Americans producers to ensure better participation in our federal programs.

What would be of interest to the Seminole Tribe, knowing it’s involved in agriculture and cattle producing?

It establishes a foundation for improved coordination, planning and implementation of USDA programs on Indian lands.

In addition, the signatories seek to improve assistance to American Indians in addressing the comprehensive agricultural, conservation and economic needs of communities on Indian lands.

[It] provides outreach to Indian tribes, Indian landowners and Indian land users, including non-Indian producers that are leasing Indian lands, in order to inform the respective tribe or person of NRCS program opportunities.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

This MOU supports collaboration, coordination and cross training between the three agencies (BIA, NCRS, and Farm Service Agency) to become better knowledgeable of each agency’s function and programs to better serve the tribes and tribal producers.

It also allows BIA and NRCS to leverage technical and financial services to support the tribe’s efforts to improve their natural resources on agriculture and range lands.

The MOU also states that [the] Farm Service Agency will work to inform others of county committee elections.

County committee members are elected by the local community and can impact producers through their decision making and help shape the culture of a local FSA office.

They also ensure the fair and equitable administration of FSA farm programs in their counties and are accountable to the secretary of agriculture.

All members of Indian tribes holding agricultural land are eligible to vote in county committee elections if they meet the age requirement.

More information is at nrcs.usda.gov. Hamilton can be reached by phone at (202) 260-8540 or via email at barry.hamilton@usda.gov.

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