New Collaboration to Enhance Agricultural Education for Indigenous Students in Arizona

Native American students attending Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools will now have enhanced access to culturally relevant agricultural training and education through a newly established partnership with the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF).

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland expressed that this collaboration aligns with BIE’s dedication to delivering top-tier, culturally appropriate education and empowering Indigenous communities for a brighter future in Native American agriculture, as stated in a press release.

NAAF, established as a private charitable trust through the resolution of the class-action lawsuit Keepseagle v. Vilsack, focuses on providing grants for business, agricultural education, technical support, and advocacy to support Indigenous farmers and ranchers, as highlighted on its website.

“Agricultural education stands at the core of NAAF’s mission, offering opportunities for students, producers, and Native communities to engage in tribal agriculture, sustain food systems, enhance credit and lending options, and bolster tribal economies,” mentioned Native American Agriculture Fund CEO Toni Stanger-McLaughlin in a press release.

The educational resources within this collaboration will delve into Native agricultural history alongside contemporary practices, focusing on attributes like origins, leadership, and plant science within Indigenous societies, according to the BIE.

Newland emphasized the significance of expanding agricultural education through business and lending experiences, vocational programs, youth initiatives, and outdoor agricultural exposure to foster heightened interest and diverse opportunities for Native students in agriculture and related sectors.

The partnership with NAAF will enable students to engage in project-based learning, immersing them in traditional agricultural concepts and practices to develop a deeper understanding of Indigenous agricultural systems, as indicated by the BIE.

“This collaborative initiative for lifelong agricultural education addresses a critical gap in agricultural learning,” noted Stanger-McLaughlin, emphasizing the goal to provide Native students with the knowledge to preserve generational wisdom and support comprehensive agricultural ecosystems.

In June, the BIE and NAAF formalized their partnership, planning to introduce educational resources at BIE-operated schools near the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo in Wingate, New Mexico.

The Tribal Agriculture Fellowship program, an affiliate of NAAF, will spearhead joint efforts with schools to develop tailored resources that meet each school’s unique requirements, highlighted the BIE.

“We are excited to commence this collaboration with BIE schools,” remarked Nicole De Von Jackson, director of the Tribal Agriculture Fellowship program, underscoring the opportunity to create personalized resources reflecting individual communities’ needs and strengths to inspire Native students toward leadership roles in agriculture.

This partnership will also amplify the support for the Indigenous Foods Hubs project, augmenting culturally based nutrition education and training for healthy and culturally suitable food preparation, as per the BIE.

Bureau of Indian Education Director Tony L. Dearman emphasized the agency’s focus on expanding agricultural education, from early childhood to post-secondary levels, through programs like the Indigenous Foods Hubs initiative and community growing efforts.

The collaboration between BIE and the Department of Interior introduced the Indigenous food hubs in 2022, now operational in four BIE-managed schools, incorporating Indigenous wisdom to bolster Native Food Sovereignty efforts by integrating culture, health determinants, nutrition, land stewardship, and regenerative agriculture.

This partnership will further reinforce Indigenous agriculture, aligning with BIE’s commitment to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into the curriculum and establish career pathways in agriculture, according to Dearman.

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