Cultivating Tribal Governance through the Model Tribal Food and Agriculture Code

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Tribes and Tribal citizens across the country are investing in food and agricultural systems at record amounts, with the industry reaching nearly $6.2 billion annual market value, according to the 2022 Census of Agriculture. The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative’s Model Tribal Food and Agriculture Code project helps fuel this growth by providing Native Nations the legal frameworks necessary to shape their food and agriculture destinies. 

“The Model Tribal Food and Agriculture Code is designed to be a resource that is highly flexible,” said IFAI Executive Director, Erin Parker. “We wanted to provide a resource that was broad and easily tailored.” 

Started under the leadership of IFAI’s co-founder, Janie Simms Hipp, the Tribal Food and Agriculture Code serves as a resource for Tribal governments, providing a comprehensive set of model laws for review, adoption, and implementation.  

IFAI, along with contributing attorneys, designed the code to facilitate agricultural production, food systems development, and health outcomes improvement in Indian Country. 

“If you’re not sure where to start, it can be overwhelming. So having that foundation available is really important,” said Osage Nation Secretary of Natural Resources Dr. Jann Hayman.  

IFAI staff worked with the Osage Nation to help the Tribe navigate the Model Tribal Food and Agriculture Code with the goal of crafting tailored Tribal laws to support the Nation’s agricultural endeavors. 

“And [the Model Tribal Food and Agriculture Code] definitely gives, at least for us, the Osage Nation, you know, the ability to make it ours. … tweak it to fit what we’re doing here,” Dr. Hayman said. 

The Tribe first began its food sovereignty efforts in 2016, and the Model Tribal Food and Agriculture Code not only provided a starting point, but it has also assisted the Osage Nation with identifying holes and opportunities.  

Today, the Osage Nation’s thriving food and agricultural enterprises include Butcher House Meats, state-of-the-art greenhouses and facilities at the Tribe’s Harvest Land Farm, bison and cattle operations, and more. 


The Project 

In food, as in everything, Tribes are diverse, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to Tribal governance in food and agriculture. IFAI and partners kept this at the forefront while developing the project.  

“The code is really broad. It’s about over 1000 pages long, and it spans 12-plus different chapters,” Parker said.  

“The code touches on really anything from farm to fork,” she continued. 

Tribes can request access to the Model Tribal Agriculture Code for details on the chapters and accompanying resources.  

“We don’t necessarily always share exact specifics of what’s in it,” Parker said. “We know that there are some Tribes that don’t like to publish their code, so we try to be a little bit careful and judicious and sharing exactly what’s in there … that way this is still an open resource, even for Tribes that don’t publish code.”  

There is a strong need for Tribal governments to express their sovereignty through food and agricultural law, and IFAI resources and staff can help Tribes undertake the important work of protecting their food systems.  

Learn more about the Model Tribal Food and Agriculture Code project at; connect with IFAI staff and resources online; and listen to Rooted Wisdom: Exploring Tribal Agriculture episode featuring IFAI’s Erin Parker and Osage Nation’s Dr. Jann Hayman.