Agriculture, education key to Indian prosperity

 

Note: in the print edition of this issue, this article appears as a sidebar to another news article, "Native Soil: Lakotas garden for health and independence."

In 1994, only one Native American received a doctorate in agricultural science. It's not as if the country's Indian reservations couldn't use the expertise. They encompass 54.5 million acres of land - an area larger than the state of Idaho - of which 75 percent is agricultural land and 15 percent forest.

This is the kind of imbalance supporters of land-grant status for the Indian colleges are trying to address. Indian tribes are land-rich and job-poor, so agriculture can logically provide a tool for financial stability. However, several studies have found that both the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have woefully underserved Indian farmers.

"A commitment to agricultural training is clearly the primary answer to lasting economic development on reservations and preventing welfare dependence," according to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. "Indian agricultural production has been valued at nine times all gas and oil income, and the potential growth is unlimited."

Despite their slim budgets, Indian colleges have developed plenty of innovative programs. The Menominee Sustainable Development Institute at the College of the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin has helped the tribe develop a profitable and environmentally sustainable forestry program. The tribal program - situated on land described by author Wendell Berry as "a diverse, old, healthy, beautiful, productive, community-supporting forest that is home, not only to its wild inhabitants, but to its human community' - won this year's Presidential Award for Sustainable Development.

At Little Big Horn College in Montana, students can prepare for jobs in the state's outdoor tourism industry, such as being fly-fishing and bird-hunting guides. The college's president, Janine Pease Pretty On Top, has also made sure the college is a forum for free speech and activism.