Intertribal Agriculture Council

Date: June 6, 2019
Partner: Sarah Ballew, Headwater People
Interviewee: Zach Ducheneaux, Executive Director

Quick Stats about the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC):
The IAC was founded in 1987 to pursue and promote the conservation, development and use of our agricultural resources for the betterment of Native people. Land-based agricultural resources are vital to the economic and social welfare of many Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.

IAC has grown to prominence in Indian Country and among the federal government agencies and the agricultural field with which it works on behalf of individual Indian producers and Tribal enterprises. The IAC has, over the last three decades, become recognized as the most respected voice within the Indian community and government circles on agricultural policies and programs in Indian country.

To provide a unified effort to promote change in Indian Agriculture for the benefit of Indian People.

Key Considerations:
The harmonies of man, soil, water, air, vegetation and wildlife collectively make up the American Indian agriculture community, and influence our emotional and spiritual well-being. Prior to 1987, American Indian agriculture was basically unheard of outside reservation boundaries.

Strengths, Keys for Success:
IAC has a strong Native youth professional development pipeline. More than a decade ago, IAC made a commitment to develop the next generation of leadership and tribal agricultural professionals—they have now helped to launch hundreds of progressive young agriculture professionals in careers in this space.

IAC’s professional develop strengths builds on a partnership with the University of Arkansas that has created an internship to apprenticeship to part-time policy and technical work, with the goal of eventual placement with the Council.

IAC believes in reminding youth in their professional development pipeline that, “Your people were researchers and scientists”, and is committed to the rebuilding of that traditional knowledge base. Sharing with the whole community the legacy of Native scientists, biologists, researchers, doctors, lawyers, advocates and communication specialists has been seminal to their work. IAC’s partnership with the University of Arkansas School of Law’s indigenous food and agriculture program has been a primary partner in this.

IAC has also created Akiptan, a community development financial institution (CDFI) that invests, rather and lends, in Indian Country agriculture with the expectations of a return on the investment rather than repayment. Named for the Lakota word for bringing together in a unified effort, the Akiptan was developed to finance agriculture in “the way Indians would do it”.

Akiptan’s model is to make investments in Indian producers rather than conventional loans and negotiate a return on investment as a percentage that can then be leveraged for a profit with other philanthropic partners to allow Akiptan to continue the model without being dependent on loans being repaid in full.

Barriers and Challenges:
Food sovereignty and self-sufficiency is a difficult goal for tribes and Indian Country in general, to commit to as a priority. Leadership is forced to respond to so many emergency-level situations that demand time and attention, its very difficult to step back and focus on a 15-year goal of feeding your people from your own natural resource. As a result, lacking attention for this issue is the biggest barrier encountered.

Securing funding is a challenge. AIC takes on the responsibility to lift the burden of finding the resources to do this work from tribal governments, so they can move forward when they are ready to.

Primary Funding:
Initially, IAC had been funded through BIA appropriations, however after budget cuts in the 1990s, they didn’t want to compete with tribes. Most of the funding now, comes through the USDA.

Insights for others:
Rebuilding food systems is a critical part of solving for persistent poverty in Indian country. We need to address exploitation of our natural resources as well as our agricultural activity in the economy.
The attention that the Seeds of Native Health Movement through the Shakopee Tribe and the Native American Agriculture F. und are bringing to agriculture will open up a lot more opportunity to partner with tribes who have been on the edge of jumping into a food economy.