Date: August 2, 2019
Interviewer: Sarah Ballew, Headwater People
Interviewee: Will Seeley, Food Policy Planner and Loren Bird Rattler, Project Manager
Quick Stats about the Blackfeet Agriculture Resource Management Plan:
American Indian Agriculture Resource Management Act was passed in 1993 and amended in 1994 provides opportunities for Indian and Alaska Villages for the self-determination of Indian agricultural lands within their political jurisdictions.
The Blackfeet Nation’s agriculture resource management plan (ARMP) process has been developed over the last 3 years, culminating in a 2-day planning session where we brought a cross section of our community stakeholders together and did our comprehensive or strategic planning, developing the goals and objectives for the ARMP. The plan encompasses all natural resource management, with the exception of forestry.
Agriculture resource management plans (ARMP) that were developed prior to this were mostly outsourced and more of an inventory than an action plan, and not taken advantage of. With this plan, the Blackfeet Nation looked at that legislation and intended to more fully realized the authority that it really gives tribes.
In addition to the 10-year ARMP plan, a 5-year food sovereignty was also developed recently. Both plans address to the Nation’s triple bottom line.
The ARMP document will serve as a long-range plan for the Blackfeet Nation which will provide for the utilization, protection, conservation and restoration of agricultural lands for the benefit of the Blackfeet people and future generations. This will serve to complete and implement a strategic plan for the comprehensive management of the reservations agricultural resources and develop tribal policies based on the visions that the tribe and tribal landowners have for their reservation.
The planning was centered on the Tribe’s triple bottom line: 1) economic development through private sector investments, 2) reductions in Blackfeet health disparities, and 3) investing in youth.
The original Act’s intent was to unravel the jurisdictional complexities around trust management so that, tribe and tribal producers could be more productive on their land. It was a mechanism rarely used since 1993 and the Blackfeet Nation took the step of actually producing it in-house. By producing their own plan, it allowed the Tribe to begin to build the capacity for implementation as they saw fit.
The average age of farmers and ranchers in Montana was 50 in 1985, today, it's 65. Without instilling institutional knowledge into younger people, that way of life is at risk.
Strengths, Keys for Success:
The Resource Management Act requires plans to be developed from a holistic perspective. Blackfeet ARMP embraced that mandate using indigenous capacities and knowledge and were able to produce truly holistic thinking.
Comprehensive planning is extremely complex and can be incredibly costly in time and resources. Operating from a context of high needs makes this additionally difficult, where there is pressure for immediate action. Having the patience and foresight to spend 3 years on a planning process exhibits rare cultural and strategic strengths.
The Blackfeet Nation’s systems planning leveraged deep understanding the interdependent and intricate relationships and functions in the larger system. This decolonizing approach stands in contrast from a western process of specialization and individualized research and control.
This perspective has led to a vision that fundamentally involves an entire system that connects understandings of land, water, community health, international and national trade practices, education, nutrition, medicinal plant gathering, agricultural legal codes, career development, and much more.
The Tribe’s design of the outcomes and processes that aligned with their communities’ own vision and sensibilities also put them in a position to keep control over projects when partnering with funders, as opposed to having precast funding parameters drive the process.
The Tribe’s own deep understanding of its resources and community needs has shaped the objective of leveraging Blackfeet territory on both sides of the US-Canadian border and its clean headwaters to produce high-end meat products that can be sold in international markets while improving health disparities in the Tribe.
Barriers and Challenges:
Administrative infrastructure is an important and often underappreciated resource that’s vital to do significant work.
Change involves changing people as well as functions. That’s very difficult.
Figuring out how to involve youth in everything they are doing. How to build that, the excitement in science and natural resources and all of those pieces involved.
Moving past silos that funding structures have created.
Initial funding came through a 638 contract to develop ARMPs. They also secured grants, both public and private grants to underwrite the efforts. They’ve utilized a variety of funders to underwrite efforts across the board for agriculture, resource management, and conservation.
Insights for others:
We've created, which is a non-government research arm that we'll also be offering health services through cultural reclamation. Then you'd have a variety of resources that you can utilize not only for prevention but also for direct treatment for a variety of things, especially the by-product of the acculturation assimilation.
We're never going to flip the script on the lack of capacity in tribal governments if we don't start investing in workforce development in Indian country. What we tell funders is to support equitable partnerships that built capacity in Indian country through budget equity and support of FTEs based in Indian country. We also make recommendations that they require non-native organizations to have real partnerships with on the ground efforts in Indian country