Speaking to the presidents of tribal colleges from across the nation at the Agriculture Department last week, Secretary Tom Vilsack expressed his commitment to support Tribes and further strengthening the government-to-government relationship.

While USDA faces substantial budget uncertainty in the coming months, the Secretary noted that President Obama continues to work closely with Tribes to establish a “deeper, more meaningful” consultation process.

Vilsack also noted USDA’s plans to broaden the “Strike Force Initiative,” which sends teams of USDA field staff into areas of persistent poverty to assist in the preparation of applications for funds to improve quality of life and promote opportunity. He said the initiative is already in use in the Southwest and soon will be leveraged to serve Tribes in North and South Dakota.

The Secretary spoke at a morning-long meeting of USDA officials and the leadership of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, which represents tribal colleges from across the Nation.  Natural Resources and Environment Deputy Under Secretary Butch Blazer, a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, said that under the Obama Administration “Indian education is being elevated. Higher education is creating the young tribal professionals that we need. There isn’t anything more important to me than education, because that will raise the bar in Indian Country.”

Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Under Secretary Blazer expressed the need for more diversity at USDA.  Blazer said he is working on that effort in the Forest Service and that Tribal educators are key in providing the tools young people need to prepare for jobs in the Forest Service and across the U.S. Government. The Secretary encouraged the college presidents to affirmatively encourage Tribal members, including “bright young people in your tribal colleges” to submit their names to the Department to serve on boards and commissions.

The Tribal College Presidents noted that they have a strong relationship with USDA because Indian Country consists of over 72 million acres and 75 percent of it is agriculture or forestry based.

To find out more about USDA’s work with Tribes click here. To read an Executive Order improving tribal education opportunities click here.  To view photos of the meeting between the Secretary and Tribal college presidents click here.

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