Policy Brief – March 19, 2024

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Policy Brief Summary

There are two Congressional hearings this week: one in the House Natural Resource Committee concerning Tribal Self-Determination, and another in the House Appropriations Committee to review USDA’s budget with Secretary Tom Vilsack.

There are three Federal Register notices highlighted this week, one of which is a final rule out of USDA’s Rural Housing Service about borrowers’ ability to use annual surplus cash to fund Agency-approved soft debt.

USDA’s Forrest Service will host a Tribal consultation on March 27 about the impacts of the National Old Growth Amendment on Tribal resource management plans. Last week USDA FNS held a consultation concerning two rules for SNAP. We will update the IFAI briefing materials created for the Tribal caucus hosted at this link later this week, with written comments being accepted through April 12 by FNS. IFAI is facilitating a Tribal Caucus on the Summer EBT Program on April 11 (register here) to brief Tribes on its provisions ahead of the comment submission deadline at the end of April. This Wednesday (March 20), IFAI is hosting an Ag Census webinar (register here) about the history of the census and its inclusion of Indian Country provisions throughout time.

Tribal News covers the work being done in higher education institutions around Tribal food and agriculture, including the Regional Food Business Center out of Michigan State University and the Youth Leadership Summit out of the University of Arkansas’ Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative. Articles also highlight federal investments in water and broadband infrastructure, climate resilience, and hemp economic development.

Congressional updates   


Looking Back

Hearing: House Natural Resource Committee– Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2024. 

Topic: Full Committee Markup; H.R. 6368, “Indian Buffalo Management Act” 

Witnesses: Committee members 

Highlights: There was no discussion about H.R. 6368. It was sent to the Subcommittee on Indian and Insular Affairs with unanimous consent.  

Looking Ahead

Hearing: House Natural Resource Indian and Insular Affairs Subcommittee– Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2024, at 2:00 p.m. EST 

Topic: Advancing Tribal Self-Determination: Examining the opportunities and challenges of the 477 Program 

Witnesses: Not listed at time of print. 


Hearing: House Appropriation Committee– Thursday, Mar. 21, 2024, at 10:00 a.m. EST 

Topic: Agriculture Budget 

Witnesses: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack 

Executive Branch and Federal Agency Actions: 

There were no executive branch and federal agency actions related to Tribal food and agriculture at the time of publication.  

Nomination opportunities: 

 What is the nomination for? Invasive Species Advisory Committee  

Description: The Committee will serve to advise the National Invasive Species Council (NISC) on interdepartmental coordination, planning, and leadership for the Federal Government on the prevention, eradication, and control of invasive species.  

Deadline for submission? April 27, 2024  

Regulatory/Rulemaking actions:


Agency: USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) 

Action: Submission for OMB Review on Collection of Information on Individual Research, Education, and Integrated Activities; Comments requested by April 12, 2024. 

Why it matters: NIFA administers research, education, and extension programs, under which awards of high-priority are made. The information provided helps monitor the latest developments in utilization in specific target areas, plan for future activities; plan for resource allocation to research and education programs; avoid costly duplication of effort; aid in coordination of research and education efforts addressing similar problems in different location; and aid researchers and project directors in establishing valuable contacts with the agricultural community. 

Posted: Week of March 18. 

Agency: USDA Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights 

Action: Submission for OMB Review on reporting of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender Data; Comments requested by April 15, 2024. 

Why it matters: Section 14006 of the 2008 Farm Bill requires USDA to annually compile application and participation rate data on socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers. Each USDA program is to compute raw numbers and rates of applicants and participants by race, ethnicity, and gender. The USDA will continue to voluntarily collect data. 

Posted: Week of March 18.

Agency: USDA Rural Housing Service (RHS) 

Action: Final Rule on Changes to Related to Reserve Account Administration in Multi-Family Housing (MFH) Direct Loan Programs effective April 17, 2024. 

Why it matters: RHS offers loans, grants, and loan guarantees for single- and multi-family housing, childcare centers, fire and police stations, hospitals, libraries, nursing homes, schools, first responder vehicles and equipment, and housing for farm laborers. With this change, the borrower will be able to use surplus cash to fund Agency-approved soft debt (e.g. debt that is generally not immediately due and payable). 

Posted: Week of March 18. 

Agency: USDA Forest Service; DOI Fish and Wildlife Service

Action: Final Rule on Subsistence Management Regulations for Public Lands in Alaska and Subsistence Taking of Wildlife and Fish and Shellfish Regulations; the final rule was effective on Feb. 29, 2024. 

Why it matters: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior jointly implement the Federal Subsistence Management ProgramThis final rule revises regulations for seasons, harvest limits, methods, and means related to taking fish for subsistence uses in Alaska and the regulations for subsistence taking of wildlife. The implementation of this rule is by Federal agencies, and there is no cost imposed on any State or local entities or Tribal governments. 

Posted: Week of March 5.

Agency: USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA)

Action:Notice about Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the 2018 Farm Bill extension to Sept. 30, 2024  

Why it matters:

This notice provides information about the CRP’s extension to Sept. 30, 2024. 

CRP’s purpose continues to be to cost-effectively assist producers in conserving and improving natural resources, restoring environmentally sensitive land by converting it to long-term vegetative cover, and improving the health of grasslands. The Transition Incentives Program and the Forest Management Incentive have both been extended to September 30, 2024, with no changes.  

Posted: Week of March 5.

Agency: USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) 

Action: Comments Requested on the WIC Food Delivery Portal by April 29, 2024. 

Why it matters:

State Agencies and Tribal Organizations are required to submit to FNS a summary of the results of their vendor monitoring efforts, assuring that every reasonable effort has been made to ensure the integrity of the WIC program. Data collection is done through the Food Delivery Portal and comments are invited on topics such as enhancing the quality, utility, and clarity of information to be collected.  

Posted: Week of March 5.

Agency: USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) 

Action: Final Rule on Amendments to the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 effective May 6, 2024. 

Why it matters: This final rule addresses discriminatory or deceptive practices experienced by producers and growers from packers, swine contractors, and live poultry dealers. These practices include (1) discriminatory prejudices on certain bases relating to the producer’s characteristics, (2) retaliation for engaging in certain acts as part of being a livestock or poultry producer or rower, and (3) false or misleading statements or material omissions in certain contexts. This final rule is also intended to promote inclusive competition and market integrity.  

Posted: Week of March 11. 

Agency: USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) 

Action: Submission for OMB Review on Reporting Requirements for State Plans of Work for Agricultural Research and Extension Formula Funds; Comments requested by April 5, 2024. 

Why it matters: Before formula funds may be provided to 1862 and 1890 land-grant institutions, a plan of work must be submitted by each institution and approved by NIFA, which is requesting to continue to collect an update to the 5-Year Plan of Work which began with the Fiscal Year 2007. Institutions are required to report on things such as the actions taken to seek stakeholder input, encouraging participation, and a statement of how collected input was considered.  

Posted: Week of March 11. 

Tribal Consultation and Listening Sessions/Advisory Committee Meetings:

Title of Event: Tribal Forum – Proposed Plan Amendment: National Old Growth Amendment. 

About: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service invites you to consult on the National Old Growth Amendment (NOGA) 

Date: March 27 at 2:30 p.m. EST 

Tribal Resources: Please see the Intertribal Timber Council’s February 2, 2024 letter on this consultation issue here. The ITC calls on the USFS to hold a direct consultation with each Tribe potentially affected by the proposal as it applies to individual forest plans. This requires more than seeking comments from tribes – it means the Forest Service must fully understand specific tribal resource management plans and be responsive to them in this process. 

Title of Event: IFAI Tribal Caucus – Summer EBT  

About: Last year, USDA published an interim Final Rule re Establishing the Summer EBT Program and Rural Non-Congregate Option in the Summer Meal Programs. Comments are due by April 29, 2024. 

Date: April 11 at 11 a.m. CST 

Tribal Resources: While there is no official consultation for this proposal, IFAI is facilitating a Tribal Caucus on the Summer EBT Program on April 11 (register here) at 11 a.m. CST to answer questions or provide input to interested Tribes. Caucus registrants will receive the briefing note from IFAI ahead of the event.   

Court Decisions:   

U.S. District Court of the Southern District of California: 

Manuel Corrales, Jr. v. Amy Dutschke, in her official capacity as the Regional Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Sacramento, California, et.al., No.23-CV-1876 JLS (DDL) (Mar. 8, 2024) 

 A Tribal official designated as a “person of authority” by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) signed a fee agreement with a private attorney on behalf of the California Valley Miwok Tribe. After the Tribe discharged the attorney, the attorney requested the BIA to clarify that the “person of authority” was authorized to enter into the fee agreement and to enforce the tribe’s obligations to pay attorney fees pursuant to the fee agreement. The court found that BIA does not have a mandatory duty to confirm that an individual has the authority to contract for legal services on behalf of a tribe and that the BIA does not have an obligation to audit and examine the Tribes’ performance of service contracts like the fee agreement.  


Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma: 

The State of Oklahoma v. Steven Leon Fuller, 2024 OK CR 4 (Mar. 7, 2024)  

An Indian criminal defendant moved to dismiss the charges against him pursuant to McGirt, arguing the State lacked criminal jurisdiction because he is an Indian and the charged offenses occurred on the Wyandotte Reservation in Indian country. The court found that although the State of Oklahoma argued that Wyandotte Reservation had been disestablished in 1956 through termination legislation, those 1956 Termination Acts “were rendered a legal nullity” when Congress later repealed them through the Reinstatement Act in 1978. Accordingly, the court held that the Wyandotte Reservation was not disestablished and the defendant’s crimes occurred in Indian country. (The state did not argue, and the court did not perform any further analysis as to the state’s jurisdiction over the defendant’s crimes). 

Tribal News:

North Dakota’s United Tribes Technical College partnering with NDSU to construct new agriculture and tech programWDAY 

  • The article discusses a partnership between North Dakota’s United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) and North Dakota State University (NDSU) to enhance educational opportunities for Indigenous students. 
  • Tribal leaders associated with UTTC are actively engaged in this collaboration. Through this partnership, UTTC students will gain access to NDSU’s resources and expertise, further empowering them to pursue academic and career success. 
  • This initiative highlights the commitment of Tribal leaders and educational institutions to support Indigenous education and advance opportunities for Tribal community members. 


Land grant legacy: How MSU and extension support Native communities todayBozeman Daily Chronicle 

  • Montana State University is providing support to Native communities, specifically focusing on its impact on Indigenous students and extension programs. 
  • Through initiatives like the American Indian Hall and the Native American Studies Department, the university has significantly increased its support for Indigenous students, offering financial aid programs, including tuition waivers and scholarships, amounting to $2.1 million in 2024. 
  • However, challenges persist in funding Tribal extension programs, with some positions remaining vacant due to budget constraints. Montana State University Extension works closely with Tribal colleges to provide essential services, such as research, youth development, and skill-based workshops. Despite funding obstacles, these extension programs play a vital role in preserving cultural knowledge, promoting community engagement, and supporting economic development in Indigenous communities. 


Great Lakes Midwest Regional Food Business Center: Building a sustainable future for food and farming businessesMichigan State University  

  • The establishment of the Great Lakes Midwest Regional Food Business Center by Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) aims to provide support to small- and mid-sized food and farm businesses owned by historically marginalized communities in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. 
  • With funding from the USDA, the Center plans to distribute over $10 million in technical assistance services and Business Builder awards to assist these entrepreneurs. The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin will provide Tribal coordination within the region, ensuring Indigenous farmers and businesses receive support. 
  • The Center’s objectives include offering localized assistance, facilitating access to local and regional supply chain partners, and enhancing the resilience of local and regional food systems. Additionally, CRFS intends to hire new personnel to build the Center’s capacity and create transformative changes within the state and region toward developing equitable, sustainable, and diverse food systems. 


USDA’s Vilsack talks broadband, food sovereignty and more during RES; announces $58M in new investmentsTribal Business News  

  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $58 million in new investments during the National Center for American Indian Enterprise’s Reservation Economic Summit (RES) in Las Vegas. The investments will bolster water and broadband infrastructure in Tribal communities across Nevada, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Specifically, the Yomba Shoshone Tribe in Nevada will receive funding for water infrastructure, while the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma will benefit from high-speed internet deployment. 
  • Vilsack emphasized the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to Tribal economic development and highlighted efforts to expand Tribal eligibility for USDA grant programs, remove barriers for Native-owned small businesses, and promote food sovereignty. 
  • He also announced the first Native Nations Trade Mission to Canada, aiming to showcase Native products internationally. Vilsack’s remarks underscored the administration’s dedication to supporting Native producers and collaborating with Tribal communities to address their needs. 


Growing the Next Generation: Programs cultivate future Native farmersTribal Business News 

  • With a significant portion of American farmers approaching retirement age and a large percentage of Native farmers over 65 years old, there is a pressing need to engage young people in agriculture. Organizations like the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (IFAI) and Dream of Wild Health offer programs and events to educate and inspire Native youth about agriculture and food sovereignty. 
  • The IFAI Leadership Summit, for example, brings together college students to network, visit farm operations, and discuss opportunities in Native agriculture. Similarly, Dream of Wild Health hosts youth-oriented programs like Cora’s Kids and Garden Warriors to reconnect young people with the land and promote agricultural careers. These initiatives aim to address the aging farmer population and encourage the next generation of Native farmers and industry professionals. 


Biden Administration Allocates $120 Million to Boost Climate Resilience Among Indigenous CommunitiesBNN  

  • The Biden administration’s recent decision to allocate over $120 million to Native American and Alaska Native Tribes signals a historic effort to enhance the resilience of Indigenous communities in the face of worsening climate change impacts. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary, highlighted the commitment to addressing decades of underfunding for Tribal nations and their vulnerability to forced displacement and environmental threats. 
  • This funding, the largest annual contribution through the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Tribal Climate Resilience Annual Awards Program since 2011, underscores a shift in federal policy toward incorporating Indigenous knowledge and leadership in climate resilience efforts. 


As the Northwest turns toward Spring, agricultural irrigators, fire managers and water experts watchJefferson Public Radio  

  • Tribal leaders across the Northwest are expressing concerns about the insufficient snowpack as spring approaches, anticipating challenges for agriculture, fish, and wildfires in the upcoming summer. Federal maps show areas of worry in Washington state, with many regions displaying yellow, orange, and red dots, indicating varying degrees of concern about the snowpack. 
  • Irrigators in Tribal territories, such as those in the Yakima Basin, are bracing for reduced water allocations this summer, with some districts preparing for as little as 60% of their usual water supply. Tribal leaders are implementing adaptive measures to mitigate water scarcity, including the construction of new reservoirs and investments in advanced irrigation systems. 
  • The dry conditions in Tribal areas are exacerbating concerns about wildfires, with Tribal leaders and meteorologists warning of an earlier and potentially more intense fire season. Tribal communities are actively collaborating with federal, state, and regional agencies to address water shortages and wildfire risks, emphasizing the need for proactive strategies to safeguard their lands, cultures, and livelihoods. 


Oregon State receives $10 million grant to work with 13 Native American Tribes on hemp economic developmentOregon State University 

  • Oregon State University has secured a $10 million grant to collaborate with 13 Native American Tribes on hemp economic development initiatives. The project aims to bolster Tribal sovereignty and economic self-sufficiency by exploring the potential of hemp cultivation and processing. The Tribes involved in this partnership will engage in research on hemp genetics, cultivation methods, and market opportunities. 
  • Additionally, the initiative will offer educational programs and workforce development to empower Tribal communities to participate effectively in the hemp industry. This grant, provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, highlights the significance of Tribal partnerships in advancing sustainable agriculture and economic growth.