Native American Agriculture and Land Tenure

Village Earth posts related to Native American agriculture, land tenure, and food security.

Henry Red Cloud wins 2011 Glynwood Harvest Award

Henry Red Cloud, Buffalo Hump Sanctuary

Village Earth is proud to announce that our long-time partner, Henry Red Cloud, has won the 2011 Glynwood Harvest Award for Connecting Communities, Farmers and Food, and in particular, for his work restoring buffalo for families on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Henry’s bison project, “Buffalo Hump Sanctuary” is an affiliate of Village Earth.

Glynwood is an agricultural non-profit whose mission is to save farming, has announced the winners of its annual Harvest Awards.  The Harvest Awards were created by Glynwood in order to highlight innovative work being done on a community level to increase access to fresh, locally-produced food and to recognize leaders across the country whose exemplary work support their regional food systems.

This year the winners will participate in a panel discussion open to the public to take place on Monday, October 24 at the 92YTRIBECA in downtown Manhattan.  Moderated by Glynwood President Judith LaBelle, the winners will discuss their work, their challenges and the models they’ve created to increase their community’s access to locally produced foods.

Buffalo Hump Sanctuary is the result of Henry Red Cloud’s father’s vision of reclaiming the land of their Lakota tribe (which for generations had been leased out to non-indigenous people and businesses), and building a successful bison ranching operation that would better support their family economically and culturally.  The work was started in 2000, beginning with the complex process of identifying and reclaiming the land, then restoring the overgrazed land to fertility.  With the help of Village Earth, an organization that helps communities reconnect with resources that promote human well-being through empowerment and community self-reliance, Henry implemented an “Adopt a Buffalo” program; this enabled the release of over 100 head of buffalo onto the reservation, helping native bison ranchers to start or expand their ranching operations.  By 2005 Henry, along with two other families on the reservation, formed the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative, composed of Lakota ranchers who agree to comply with strict ethical standards for the care of the animals. Participating producers are then able to market their meat under the Coop’s label.  To further assist in distributing the Coop’s pasture-raised and field-harvested bison, Henry and Village Earth partnered with a local entrepreneur who markets the products online and sells throughout northern Colorado.  Today, even the smallest producer can find a market for their meat through the Cooperative.

The financial and cultural implications of this work for the Lakota families cannot be underestimated.  About two-thirds of the reservation’s lands have been leased for generations, stripping the families of their connection to their land as well as economic opportunity – leasing the land brings only one-third of the potential profit that working the land can offer.  Additionally, the reservation has been identified as “food insecure,” with little access to fresh, healthy food and a history of related medical issues that result. The production of fresh bison meat has given members of the Lakota access to nutritious protein. To further the goal of supplying fresh healthy food to its community, the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative recently created the Tatanka Talo project to help the elderly members of the reservation by distributing fresh meat to them.

Earth Tipi Wins Fruit Orchard for Pine Ridge!

I would like to thank everyone who supported the campaign to win a Fruit Orchard from the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation for the White Horse Creek Community on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Fruit Orchard is a project of Village Earth affiliate “Earth Tipi” (formerly Sustainable Homestead Designs). With your help, the campaign generated nearly 30,000 votes bringing Earth Tipi into third place among dozens of other communities (to win, you had to make it to the top five). This is a small step towards building a more local food economy on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a place where 70% of the adult population is suffering from dietary diseases.

If you were part of this campaign and would like to stay connected to Earth Tipi and the Fruit Orchard project, you can sign up for their mailing list at www.earthtipi.org.

Village Earth & ILTF helps Native Americans cut through the Red Tape!

Today, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) released their latest newsletter themed “Cutting Through the Red Tape.” The newsletter, developed with support from Village Earth, addresses the unique challenges involved in the managment of Indian trust land and assets. It includes a collection of the most common forms used by federal agencies and Indian people and provides tips for how to read and process these forms successfully. The newsletter pulls together a lot of lessons learned by Village Earth and the ILTF through its work with Indian landowners and tribes as they attempt to gain greater access to and control of their lands.

Why Is there so much Red Tape for Indian Land?

Most Americans own property in fee simple, which means they hold title to the property and can make decisions about use and sell the land without government oversight. This is not true for Indian land, or trust land. Instead, the U.S. federal government holds the underlying title to all Indian trust land and federal agencies must process and approve all trust land-related transactions that occur. Every lease, sale, gift deed, or transfer (to name a few) must be processed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and approved by the secretary of the interior. The maze-like bureaucratic processes surrounding each transaction adds considerable time and complexity to the management of Indian lands which are already challenged by such issues as fractionated ownership and checkerboarding.

Topics include:

  • Individual Trust Interest Report
  • Individual Indian Monies Statement of Account
  • List of Real Property Assets
  • IIM Account Preferences and Change of Address
  • Appraisals
  • Sale of Indian Land
  • Land Exchange and Consolidation
  • Leasing Indian Land
  • Right of Way
  • Trust-to-Fee Transfer
  • Fee-to-Trust Transfer
  • Writing a Will
  • Gift Deed

In addition to the newsletter, the ILTF has developed an online resource on their website at http://www.iltf.org/resources/cutting-through-red-tape

Join an Eco-Tour this Summer with Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Administration

This summer, the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Administration (OSPRA) on the Pine Ridge Reservation is hosting an eco-tour. Here’s a blurb from their site. To learn more go to: http://www.osprabuffalokeepers.com/news.html

Silence from deep within the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s South Unit of the Badlands National Park and the Tribe’s buffalo pastures will be a centerpiece of new Eco-tours being offered by the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority.  Visitors who take the newly established eco-tours will have opportunity to feel majestic dominance of buffalo as they graze in the buffalo pastures.“We want visitors to understand buffalo are our relatives and not just a resource for consumption,” says Monica Terkildsen, one of the eco-tour coordinators.  “We want visitors to hear pines blowing in the wind and taste the nutty earth taste of timpsila and understand the connection of plants to our survival.”

OSPRA is targeting tourists who are looking for adventure—people who will stay for a length of time, are physically fit and want to hike into the interior of places—not just drive the edge of Oglala Lakota lands.  The Eco-tour visitor will be a person who wants to learn the cultural perspective of wild life and natural resources.

OSPRA has long had facilities for offering eco-tours that include hunting tours, cabins and a property purchased and set up in an apartment-style setting.  OSPRA offers knowledge of wildlife, natural resources and unique cultural understandings that bring all the pieces of a top flight eco-experience together in a four day outing.

Cultural interpretations will give visitors Lakota perspectives on natural resource use and Oglala Lakota philosophy and belief. Environmental integrity brought about by the Eco-tours will establish connections to wildlife and natural resources within context of a preservation plan.  “We want to develop a sustainable project that educates and shares,” says Terkildsen, “We want visitors to feel our strength and understand how we continue to survive.”

Since the 1980’s ecotourism has been on the rise and considered essential by environmentalists to survival of landscapes relatively untouched by human intrusion. OSPRA’s eco-tours came into being after Senior Biologist Dr. Trudy Ecoffey experienced an eco-tour trip to Namibia, a country in southern Africa that has the Atlantic ocean as it’s western border.  After that experience she worked with the World Wildlife Fund and other professionals to develop the idea of an eco-tour on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Village Earth Director to speak on Food Security and Sovereignty with Winona LaDuke and Rick Garcia for Earth Day

Winona LaDuke

Village Earth Director, David Bartecchi, is scheduled to speak on a panel on Food Security and Sovereignty with Winona LaDuke and Rick Garcia this Saturday, April 4th  at the Woodbine Ecology Center in Denver, Colorado. The panel is part of the Woodbine Ecology Center’s three-day conference “Honoring Mother Earth Everyday: Indigenous Models and Practices for Sustainable Communities.”

The participatory conference will focus on principles and practices, sustainable communities, food security and sovereignty, land struggles, reclaiming and regenerating our common environment, ecological health and healing, and more.

Guest Panelists include (full schedule below):

  • Winona LaDuke, Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg who lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, author, founder of White Earth Land Recovery Project, and the Indigenous Women’s Network.
  • Debra Harry, Kooyooee Dukaddo (Northern Paiute) from the Pyramid Lake Reservation in Nevada, Executive Director, Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism, and Co-Coordinator, North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
  • Louise Benally, Dine’ traditional activist from Big Mountain and health educator.
  • David Bartecchi, Executive Director of Village Earth, program director for Lakota Lands Recovery Project, trainer, organizer.
  • Rick Garcia, manager of The Urban Farm in Denver CO.
  • Mary O’ Brien, herbalist, permaculturist, and educator.
  • The Community Conversation will be co-facilitated by staff from Civic Canopy, a Denver-based inclusive network of partners working together to build stronger neighborhoods, healthier communities, and a more civil society. Furthermore, Civic Canopy will be working with WEC to hold several follow-up sessions with attendees and the general public around the greater Denver-Metro area throughout the year.

For more information and to register visit the Woodbine Ecology Center conference webpage.

Two Listening/Talking Meetings Scheduled for May

The Oyate Omniciye | Oglala Lakota planning team will be hosting two meetings with the same agenda at two different locations:

WEDNESDAY, MAY 4, 2011
12:00 noon – 4:00 pm
Su Ann Big Crow Boys & Girls Club
Pine Ridge

THURSDAY, MAY 5, 2011
5:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Pahin Sinte Owayawa School
Porcupine

RSVP

Please RSVP at www.oglalalakotaplan.org/rsvp

Child care available on site

Meal provided per accurate head count

QUESTIONS?

Please direct questions to:

Nick Tilsen at 605-455-2700 ~ [email protected]

Julie Two Eagle at 605-454-0377 ~ [email protected]

or Scott Moore at 505-280-4840 ~ [email protected]

Agricultural Resources Planning & Management Meeting on Pine Ridge

The Oglala Sioux Tribe Land Office is hosting an Agricultural Resources Planning & Management Meeting March 30th and 31st at the Prairie Wind Casino on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. For more information contact 605-867-5305.

New Course on Challenges Facing Small Scale Farmers

In order to meet the Millennium Development Goals, the poverty alleviation programs for smallholder producers will have to be as effective as possible and attract the active participation of as many beneficiaries as possible. A new Village Earth course Challenges in Smallholder Agriculture will evaluate how this might be accomplished by looking at some of the subtle factors that can enhance or hinder the overall effectiveness of programs benefiting small scale agricultural producers. During this process, the course will challenge some of the fundamental premises upon which the development effort has been based. For example, it will investigate the caloric energy smallholders can access relative to what they are expected to exert. This may have a major impact on the number of hours they can be expected to work each day, as well as alter estimates for how many days it will take for them to complete tasks associated with implementing development programs. Finally the class will evaluate the mechanism through which assistance is funneled to smallholders and the role the community as a whole can play in the effort. To register for this or another Village Earth course, please visit our online training courses.

Download Village Earth’s Strategic Land Planning Map Book for the Pine Ridge Reservation

Pine Ridge Strategic Land Planning Map Book

The purpose of this book is to make information about reservation lands more accessible to members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and to promote greater grassroots awareness and participation in land-use planning and management of their natural resources.

Created by Village Earth with support from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD

Range Units and the History of Leasing Lands on the Pine Ridge Reservation

Village Earth – Fort Collins, Co 

Today, nearly 60% of the Pine Ridge Reservation is being leased out by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), often times to non-tribal members. Despite the fact that lands allotted to Lakotas have been in the federal leasing system for several generations, over 70% of families on the reservation would like to live on and utilize their allotted lands. According to 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture for American Indian Reservations, the market value of agriculture commodities produced on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2007 totaled $54,541,000. Yet, less than 1/3 ($17,835,000) of that income went to Native American producers.

The reason so few Lakota’s are utilizing Reservation lands today can be traced back to a history of discriminatory policies enacted by Congress just a few years after the signing of the General Allotment Act that opened up Reservation lands to non-Native producers. These policies affected Native Americans nationwide. According to Village Earth’s study of the USDA data, in total numbers, Native Americans represent only 1.6% of the farmers and ranchers operating on Reservation lands. Today, for most Native American Reservations in the United States, more than two-thirds of the farms and ranches are controlled by non-natives. As might be expected, this disparity in land use has had a dramatic impact on the ability of Native Americans to fully benefit from their natural resources. Statistics on income reveal that the total value of agricultural commodities produced on Native American Reservations in 2007 totaled over $2.1 Billion dollars, yet, only 16% of that income went to Native American farmers and ranchers.

The unequal land-use patterns seen on reservations today is a direct outcome of discriminatory lending practices, land fractionation and specifically, Federal policies over the last century that have excluded native land owners from the ability to utilize their lands while at the same time opening it up to non-native farmers and ranchers. Discriminatory lending practices, as argued in court cases such as the pending Keepseagle vs. Vilsack, claim that Native Americans have been denied roughly 3 billion in credit.  Another significant obstacle is the high degree of fractionation of Reservation lands caused by the General Allotment Act (GAA) of 1887. Over a century of unplanned inheritance under the GAA has created a situation where reservation lands have become severely fractionated. Today, for a Native land owner to consolidate and utilize his or her allotted lands they may have to get the signed approval of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate land owners. As a result, most Indian land owners have few options besides leasing their lands out as part of the Federal Government’s leasing program. Additionally, historical and racially-based policies by the Federal government have been designed to exclude Native American farmers and ranchers from utilizing their own lands, opening them up to non-natives for a fraction of their far market value.

The leasing of Indian Lands by the Federal Government dates back the the the Act of February 28, 1891 which amended the General Allotment Act to give the Secretary of the Interior the power to determine whether an Indian allottee had the “mental or physically qualifications” to enable him to cultivate his allotment. In such cases, the Superintendent was authorized to lease Indian lands to non-tribal members. In 1894, the annual Indian Appropriation Act increased the agricultural lease term to 5 years, 10 years for business and mining leases, and permitted forced leases for allottees who “suffered” from “inability to work their land.” Clearly designed to alienate lands from Native Americans, this act dramatically increased the number of leases issued across the country. For the Pine Ridge Reservation the practice was so widespread, that in a 1915 Government report, it was noted that over 56% of the adult males on the reservation were considered incapable of managing their lands and thus they were forcefully leased out. In 1920 the Government Superintendent for Pine Ridge wrote, “It has been my policy to insist upon the utilization of all these lands and the grass growing upon it and this has restricted members of the tribe owning stock to their own allotments, and such land adjoining that they have leased.” Not only were a great number of Native Americans denied the ability to utilize their allotted lands, many did not even receive the lease income collected by the Federal Government. Today, it is estimated that Native Americans are owed upwards of 47 billion dollars by the Federal Government for 120 years of oil, timber, agriculture, grazing and mining leases (See Cobell vs. Salazar).

According to Village Earth, the disparity in land use on Native American Reservations will only worsen with each new generation until Native Americans are given a fair chance at accessing the credit and other forms assistance available to non-natives. Additionally, the Government should honor its obligation as trustee and pay the over 47 billion dollars in revenue it has received for the leasing of Native American lands over the last 120 years. Lastly, the Department of Interior should place special emphasis on repairing the fractionation problem created by the General Allotment Act by providing information and support to individual allottees to consolidate and utilize their lands. In particular, speeding up the appraisal and survey process for which they are responsible.

The Fate of the Badlands South Unit and a Forgotten History

By Jamie Way

The future of the land that now comprises the Southern Unit of Badlands National Park is once again uncertain. Today, the dispute over this land is somewhat more relaxed as the tension of war is no longer looming, but the stakes may be just as high as ever. In the fall of 2008, the National Park Service (NPS) began receiving public input on the creation of a new general management plan for the Badlands National Monument’s Southern Unit, (the Northern portion of the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux reservation in South Dakota). The NPS is accepting public input on their proposed options until November 1st, whereupon the fate of this land will once more be determined by someone other than the Lakota.

The Southern Unit has a long history, riddled with controversy and violence. Originally, this land belonged to the Lakota. In 1890, after the Lakota along with their Cheyenne and Arapahoe allies, were massacred by the 7th Cavalry in the battle of Wounded Knee, the survivors fled to what is now the Southern Unit. They took shelter in the natural fortress formed by a butte surrounded by cliffs. The area served as a refuge for those who escaped the cavalry. For this reason, and because Lakota Ghost Dancers were buried in this location, the land came to be considered sacred.

The land could not serve as a refuge forever. Throughout time, the reservation was created and the Oglala inhabited the Southern Unit. Unfortunately, however, right before World War II began, things changed drastically yet again for the inhabitants of the Southern Unit. On July 20, 1942 the War Department advised the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that they would be taking over an area of 40×15 miles across the northern portion of the reservation. While a small portion of this land lay within what was then Badlands National Monument (337 acres), the vast majority of the land was located within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation (nps.gov). The dispossession would impact some 125 Oglala families. And while the dispossessed families were to be supplied with some relocation compensation, assistance and supplies, actual accounts vary as to how much the families received if any at all.

The displacement was messy and created a major crisis on the reservation. While officially, the families would have had 40 days to leave if they were given notice on the same day as the Bureau of Indian affairs (which seems not to be the case most of the time), most believed that they needed to evacuate almost immediately. In fact, archival data reveals that Mr. McDowell, an employee of the land acquisition division of the War Department, had stated that the War Department was taking possession of the land and shooting was to start on August 1st (Roberts 7/7/42).This is even more shocking when you take into account that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was only officially notified of the dispossession twelve days prior. Myrtle Gross, who was displaced during the event, reported that “the Farmer Office” sent a man to tell her to “[g]et out now because the Japs aren’t going to wait!” She said they were then given 30 days to leave, (Archives Search Report 1999, Interview 5). Similarly, Ida Bullman recalls finding out about the evacuation after reading a poster that was displayed at the local store. The store owner told her, “Pack up and leave. They’re going to start shooting at you.” Thus, by the time the information reached the population the impression was given that they were to have well under two weeks (approximately ten days) to evacuate their land.

Until 1958, the land was utilized for bombing and gunnery practice by what was then the Army Air Force. Even past this date, the South Dakota National Guard retained a small portion of the land for training purposes. When they left, the land’s future was far from resolved. Moreover, they left behind them dangerous ordnance and never fully lived up to their responsibility of cleaning the land. To this day, unexploded ordnance can be found on the site.

Due to many families’ attachment to the land, Ellen Janis represented her neighbors’ interests and fought for reparations or the return of their land in a series of trips to D.C. to see public officials. During this time, Congressman Francis Case, who had lobbied for the bombing range, acknowledged that the evacuation had created an incredibly difficult situation for many of his constituents, admitting that “[t]he injustice that was done to the people of Pine Ridge is almost beyond comprehension” (Francis Case as represented in Nichols 1960). In 1968, Public Law 90-468 was finally passed, and lands declared excess by the Air Force were to be transferred to the Department of Interior. The law afforded those displaced (whether their land was held in trust or in fee) the possibility of repurchasing the land that had been taken from them if they filed an application with the Secretary of Interior to purchase the tract. This application needed to be filed within a one year window from the date a notice was published in the Federal Register that the tract had been transferred to the jurisdiction of the Secretary. Needless to say, the displaced were not properly notified of this option in many cases, in part due to their geographical dispersion. The law also stated that the original inhabitants that wished to repurchase their land were to pay the price the U.S. government had paid for the land, plus interest. Thus, those that decided to repurchase their land explained that they paid much higher prices for the land than they had originally been paid for it when the government confiscated it.

According to Jim Igoe’s BRIDGE report, “By the end of the early 1960s it was clear that Department of the Interior bureaucrats intended that the area should be taken over by a Department of the Interior Agency, and not returned to the Tribe.” The Park Service promised the tribe that by creating the park, they would invigorate the reservation economy through tourism, while the a Senate committee simultaneously strong-armed the tribe threatening to “dispose of the land in question under surplus property agreements if the Tribe refused to lease land,” (Igoe 2004).

The topic was controversial on the reservation, as traditionalists refused to turn over the land. In 1976, the Tribal Council under Chairman Dick Wilson, whose questionable leadership during the AIM struggle on Pine Ridge has solidified his legacy as a harsh and corrupt leader, signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the National Park Service. The Stronghold District of the Badlands National Park, which includes 133,300 acres of land, from this point on has been held by the National Park Service in conjunction with the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Over the next 25 years, the relationship between the NPS and some tribal members remained strained. In 2002, relations between the NPS and some tribal members degenerated to the point where a grassroots movement of Lakota defending the burial place of Ghost Dancers, called the Keepers of the Stronghold Dream, felt it necessary to physically occupy the land, guarding it from the invasion of hikers, park visitors and fossil poachers in an attempt to reclaim it (Igoe 2002). Unfortunately, this confrontation settled nothing and the issue remains unresolved to this day.

Currently, the NPS and the tribe both have complaints about how the area is being managed. The NPS complains that they have not been given proper access to manage the site as needed. The tribe feels as though the NPS has not lived up to its promises in the 1976 MOA including filling NPS jobs at the site with tribal members and reintroducing buffalo into the area. Moreover, they are still concerned with fossil poaching and environmental destruction of the region by outsiders. For this reason, many would like to see the land pulled out of the park system entirely.

As is evident in this history, the land was never properly returned to its original owners. While none of the NPS options include returning land to those that were displaced prior to WWII nor giving the land back to the tribe with no obligations, the options do include giving the tribe more control over this portion of their land. Option 2, considered the “preferred option” by the NPS, would have the NPS and the tribe create a “National Tribal Park.” Option 7 would give even greater control (but may create financial issues or have other drawbacks) to the tribe. It would allow the tribe to create and operate an Oglala Sioux Tribal Park. The NPS claims that both Option 2 and Option 7 would require Congressional approval. The reasoning behind this, however, remains unclear. In the original 1976 MOA (which has since been modified), section 21 states that “Any part or parts of this Agreement, including any appendix, may be amended or modified by mutual written consent (between the NPS and tribe) at any time.”

The NPS is currently in the final phase of public meetings and accepting comments. The comment period for this topic will close on November 1, 2010. Please consider this history while attending meetings on this topic or giving your feedback. You can read more about the options at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=117&projectID;=17543&documentID;=35882 and comment at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?parkID=117&projectID;=17543&documentID;=35882

www.villageearth.org

Reflections on the Cobell Settlement and Indian Land Consolidation

December marked an important milestone for Native American’s across the country. In a landmark 3.2 Billion dollar settlement, the Obama administration finally ended a 14 year class-action lawsuit brought against the U.S. Department of Interior by some 300,000 Native American land owners. In their suit, Native Americans argued that the government failed to pay them nearly 42 billion dollars in lease revenue collected by the government over the past 120 years serving as their self-appointed Trustee. After years of stalling with disingenuous accounting, racking up millions of dollars in legal fees charged to tax payers, withholding and even destroying evidence, a crime for which the Department of Interior was held in contempt of court, the government finally conceded and agreed to settle with the Plaintiffs. According to the lead Plaintiff, Eloise Cobell, “there is little doubt this is significantly less than the full amount to which individual Indians are entitled…Nevertheless we are compelled to settle now by the sobering realization that our class grows smaller each year, each month, and every day, as our elders die, and are forever prevented from receiving their just compensation. We also face the uncomfortable, but unavoidable fact that a large number of individual money account holders currently subsist in the direst poverty, and this settlement can begin to address that extreme situation and provide some hope and a better quality of life for their remaining years.”


Village Earth has reported regularly on the developments in this case for several years now as we are working at the front lines of helping families remove their lands from the Government’s “broken” leasing system, a term used by Larry Ecohawk, head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in a speech at last week’s Intertribal Agriculture Conference in Las Vegas and attended by Village Earth. While we do not challenge the Plaintiffs for their decision to accept such a low settlement, we do however find it deeply unsettling that desperation was a factor, a desperation largely born from the same injustices this case was all about. According to the Plaintiff’s website, the settlement guarantees Native Americans a “$1.4 billion Accounting/Trust Administration Fund and a $2 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund. The Settlement also creates an Indian Education Scholarship fund of up to $60 million to improve access to higher education for Indians.” Based on our experiences working with families and the Tribe assisting with the consolidation and utilization of fractionated interests were are particularly concerned with the proposal for the $2 Billion dollar Trust Land Consolidation Fund. According to the settlement agreement, this program will operate in accordance with the Land Consolidation Program authorized under 25 U.S.C. §§ 2201 also known as the American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA) and Indian Lands Consolidation Act (ILCA). According to the settlement agreement and consistent with the AIPRA the purpose of  the Trust Land Consolidation Fund shall be used solely for the following purposes: (1) acquiring fractional interests in trust or restricted lands; (2) implementing the Land Consolidation Program; and (3) paying the costs related to the work of the Secretarial Commission on Trust Reform, including costs of consultants to the Commission and audits recommended by the Commission. An amount up to a total of no more than fifteen percent (15%) of the Trust Land Consolidation Fund shall be used for purposes (2) and (3) above. The general impact of ILCA programs is a transfer of ownership of land from Individual Indians to Tribal Governments. While this may be an effective strategy for some Tribes, our experience working at the grassroots level on the Pine Ridge Reservation has shown us that many people on the reservation feel that the ILCA exploits the desperation of individuals, tempting them with short-term monetary gain but then leaving them with little long-term benefit. It has also caused tensions within families who feel their allotted lands, even though they are fractionated, should be retained for the benefit of future generations. Despite ILCA, other options exist for individuals, families, and communities to consolidate their lands including Tribal land exchange programs, partitioning, gift deeds, and creating wills however, right now, there is virtually no support for these programs. In fact, our research on Pine Ridge demonstrates that the Federal Government is a primary bottleneck in the whole process. Furthermore, when you consider that, in the case of the Pine Ridge Reservation, all Tribally owned lands have been tied up in loans to the Federal Housing Administration for the past 25 years, this has forced the tribe to lease their lands out, oftentimes to non-tribal members, greatly limiting their ability to develop these lands in a way that will benefit their members. A real solution to repairing the injustices of the past would look at each reservation in a holistic way and consider these differences. ILCA consolidation may not be the best option for each Reservation in those cases, supporting grassroots consolidation efforts my have a greater impact on promoting self-determination and development. Furthermore, it makes little sense to promote tribal and consolidation when at the same time you have the Tribe’s hands tied-behind it’s back with debt to where they benefit very little from those lands.

Village Earth Featured in Indian Land Tenure Foundation

USDA Misrepresents Situation of Native American Farmers

On the eve of important White House meeting with Tribal Leaders, USDA press release celebrates increase in Native American Farmers but omits information provided in an earlier report that explained the dramatic increase in the numbers as erroneous.

For Immediate Release

Village Earth – Nov. 4, 2009 – Today, the USDA issued a press release celebrating the increase in Native American Farmers and Ranchers since their 2002 Census of Agriculture. This comes on the eve an important and highly publicized meeting between the White House and Tribal representatives from across the country.

“In celebration of American Indian Heritage Month the U.S. Department of Agriculture today reported that there are nearly 80,000 American Indian operators on 61,472 farms and ranches across the United States. This represents an 88-percent increase over the number of American Indian farmers USDA counted in 2002.” 

Just a week earlier, Village Earth issued a similiar release but provided greater context for the extreme racial disparity that exists in agricultural production on most Native American Reservations. According to Village Earth, “this most recent report by the USDA is a gross misrepresentation of the data, suggesting that the increase is due to greater inclusion and outreach when in fact it is the result of the USDA expanding the sampling area of the Census from Reservations in just three States to Reservations nationwide.” Today’s press release omits information, provided in an earlier USDA report that explained the dramatic increase in the numbers.

“Part of the reason for the dramatic increase in the number of American Indian farmers is a change in the way the 2007 Census of Agriculture counted farm operators on reservations in the Southwestern United States. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service conducted a pilot program to count American Indian operators on reservations in three states — North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana — rather than simply counting a single reservation as a single farm operation. In 2007, the pilot program was extended throughout the United States. The majority of the increase in the number of American Indian operators occurred in just two states: Arizona and New Mexico, where the count increased from 694 in 2002 to 12,929 in 2007.” 

Today’s press release also failed to create a context for the larger picture of the racial disparity in agriculture that exists on most Native American Reservations today. While the USDA is correct to report that there are “nearly 80,000 American Indian operators on 61,472 farms and ranches across the United States,” that number only represent 1.6% of the total farmers and ranchers operating on Native American Reservation today, illustrating that non-native producers dominate on most Native American Reservations. In terms of income, the total value of agricultural commodities produced on Native American Reservations in 2007 totaled over $2.1 Billion dollars, yet, only 16% of that income went to Native American farmers and ranchers.

As reported earlier by Village Earth, the unequal land-use patterns seen on Native American Reservations today is a direct outcome of discriminatory lending practices, land fractionation and specifically Federal policies over the last century that have excluded native land owners from the ability to utilize their lands while at the same time opening them up to non-native farmers and ranchers. Discriminatory lending practices, as argued in court cases such as the pending Keepseagle vs. Vilsack, claim that Native Americans have been denied roughly 3 billion in credit.  Another significant obstacle is the high degree of fractionation of Reservation lands caused by the General Allotment Act (GAA) of 1887. Over a century of unplanned inheritance under the GAA has created a situation where reservation lands have become severely fractionated. Today, for a Native land owner to consolidate and utilize his or her allotted lands they may have to get the signed approval of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate land owners. As a result of this complexity, most Indian land owners have few options besides leasing their lands out as part of the Federal Government’s leasing program. Additionally, historical and racially-based policies by the Federal government have been designed to exclude Native American farmers and ranchers from utilizing their own lands, opening them up to non-natives for a fraction of their far market value.

USDA Census Reveals Non-Native Producers Dominate on Most Native American Reservations

By David Bartecchi and Courtney Hunter
Fort Collins, CO (Village Earth) 10/23/09 — Recently released 2007 Agricultural data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for Native American Reservations reveal that non-native agricultural producers dominate on most Native American Reservations in the United States. This is according to a study conducted by Village Earth, a Fort Collins based not-for-profit organization that works on indigenous land use issues on Native American Reservations in the United States and around the world. According to Village Earth’s study of the USDA data, in total numbers, Native Americans represent only 1.6% of the farmers and ranchers operating on Reservation lands. Today, for most Native American Reservations in the United States, more than two-thirds of the farms and ranches are controlled by non-natives. As might be expected, this disparity in land use has had a dramatic impact on the ability of Native Americans to fully benefit from their natural resources. Statistics on income reveal that the total value of agricultural commodities produced on Native American Reservations in 2007 totaled over $2.1 Billion dollars, yet, only 16% of that income went to Native American farmers and ranchers.

The USDA has conducted its quinquennial Census of Agriculture for every county in the United States since 1840 but it was not until 2007 when it began collecting this agricultural data for Native American Reservations. While Village Earth recognizes that this data-set is not complete, representing only 73 of the 388 Native American Reservations in the U.S., the results are consistent with data collected by a study from Colorado State University and with its experience working with Native producers on the Pine Ridge Reservation in their efforts to utilize their own lands.

The unequal land-use patterns seen on reservations today is a direct outcome of discriminatory lending practices, land fractionation and specifically, Federal policies over the last century that have excluded native land owners from the ability to utilize their lands while at the same time opening it up to non-native farmers and ranchers. Discriminatory lending practices, as argued in court cases such as the pending Keepseagle vs. Vilsack, claim that Native Americans have been denied roughly 3 billion in credit.  Another significant obstacle is the high degree of fractionation of Reservation lands caused by the General Allotment Act (GAA) of 1887. Over a century of unplanned inheritance under the GAA has created a situation where reservation lands have become severely fractionated. Today, for a Native land owner to consolidate and utilize his or her allotted lands they may have to get the signed approval of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate land owners. As a result, most Indian land owners have few options besides leasing their lands out as part of the Federal Government’s leasing program. Additionally, historical and racially-based policies by the Federal government have been designed to exclude Native American farmers and ranchers from utilizing their own lands, opening them up to non-natives for a fraction of their far market value.

The leasing of Indian Lands by the Federal Government dates back the the the Act of February 28, 1891 which amended the General Allotment Act to give the Secretary of the Interior the power to determine whether an Indian allottee had the “mental or physically qualifications” to enable him to cultivate his allotment. In such cases, the Superintendent was authorized to lease Indian lands to non-tribal members. In 1894, the annual Indian Appropriation Act increased the agricultural lease term to 5 years, 10 years for business and mining leases, and permitted forced leases for allottees who “suffered” from “inability to work their land.” Clearly designed to alienate lands from Native Americans, this act dramatically increased the number of leases issued across the country. For the Pine Ridge Reservation the practice was so widespread, that in a 1915 Government report, it was noted that over 56% of the adult males on the reservation were considered incapable of managing their lands and thus they were forcefully leased out. In 1920 the Government Superintendent for Pine Ridge wrote, “It has been my policy to insist upon the utilization of all these lands and the grass growing upon it and this has restricted members of the tribe owning stock to their own allotments, and such land adjoining that they have leased.” Not only were a great number of Native Americans denied the ability to utilize their allotted lands, many did not even receive the lease income collected by the Federal Government. Today, it is estimated that Native Americans are owed upwards of 47 billion dollars by the Federal Government for 120 years of oil, timber, agriculture, grazing and mining leases (See Cobell vs. Salazar).

According to Village Earth, the disparity in land use on Native American Reservations will only worsen with each new generation until Native Americans are given a fair chance at accessing the credit and other forms assistance available to non-natives. Additionally, the Government should honor its obligation as trustee and pay the over 47 billion dollars in revenue it has received for the leasing of Native American lands over the last 120 years. Lastly, the Department of Interior should place special emphasis on repairing the fractionation problem created by the General Allotment Act by providing information and support to individual allottees to consolidate and utilize their lands. In particular, speeding up the appraisal and survey process for which they are responsible.

A NOTE OF CAUTION REGARDING PARTITIONING (privatization) INDIGENOUS COMMUNAL LANDS – THE EXAMPLE OF THE PINE RIDGE RESERVATION, USA.

A few of us, at Village Earth, recently watched Hernand de Soto’s video, titled “El misterio del capital de los indígenas amazónicas.” Village Earth is a non-profit organization that is currently working with Shipibo communities in the Ucayali River Basin and, consequently, we are interested in any proposals that might improve the livelihoods of indigenous peoples in the region. In this case We feel a certain urgency to respond given that de Soto uses examples of Native Americans from the U.S. state of Alaska. While we are not intimately familiar with the situation of Alaskan indigenous peoples, we have been working with the Lakota people from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (in South Dakota) for more than ten years. And given that indigenous territory is such an important issue in Peru, we are not sure that the Alaskan case is the most appropriate example. Whatever the case, we would like to share our perspective on the experience of partitioning, essentially privatizing, land on Pine Ridge Reservation.
First, a few important facts about indigenous peoples (Native Americans) in the US:
Approximately 24.5 percent of Native Americans, an estimated 800,000 people, are living in poverty at or below the national poverty level in the United States. Despite this dire economic situation, Native Americans own a great deal of land, approximately 112,637.29 square miles, second only to the federal government.
Yet, many Native American’s have not been able to fully benefit from these vast resourcesbecause of various contradictions in the Federal land tenure policy for Indian lands. In particular, the obstacles created by the General Allotment Act (GAA) signed in to law in 1887, which along with the Burke Act in 1906, led to a “de facto” privatization of indigenous lands. Most importantly, these laws broke apart communally owned lands into individual parcels, which enabled private non-indigenous interests to control the vast majority (and most productive) lands on Pine Ridge Reservation. Today, the Lakota are still struggling to get these lands back in their control
Village Earth became intimately aware of the impacts of Partitioning (privatizing) Reservation lands through our work with families on the Pine Ridge Reservation who are struggling today to reverse the effects of a policy implemented over 120 years ago. Today, nearly 60% of lands allotted to Lakota families during 1887 General Allotment Act are being leased out, often to non-tribal private interests for a fraction of the fair market value. This has had a devastating impact on the people on Pine Ridge. According to the USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture for U.S. Indian Reservations, the market value of agriculture commodities produced on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2007 totaled $54,541,000. Yet, less than 1/3 ($17,835,000) of that income went to Native American producers. How did the GAA contribute to this dire situation today?
After the period of European settlement in North America between 1492-1887, Native Americans were left with reservations consisting of only 150 million acres. Recognized through treaties as sovereign nations, these lands were largely unpartitioned and communally managed, a practice considered by the U.S. Government to be a non-productive and irrational use of resources. The Government’s solution was the General Allotment Act (GAA) of 1887, also known as the Dawes Severalty Act. The act partitioned reservation lands into 160 acre parcels for each head of family, 80 acre parcels to orphans, and 40 acres parcels to each child. After all the allotments were issued, the remaining reservation lands in the West was transferred to the Government who then made it available to white settlers free of charge as part of the Homestead Act. This amounted to a loss of over 60,000,000 acres, nearly 2/3rds of all Indian lands. Beyond the significant loss of lands, the GAA also created several challenges for the use and inheritance of the remaining lands that would have profound implications for future generations of Native Americans.
  • It broke apart communally managed lands into individually owned parcels, destroying the ability of many communities to be self sufficient on already limited and marginal lands.
  • It disrupted traditional residency patterns, forcing people to live on allotments sometimes far from their relatives, eroding traditional kinship practices across many reservations.
  • It destroyed communal control of lands, making it easier for private and government interests to gain access to the vast coal, oil, natural gas, agricultural, and grazing resources on Native American Reservations.
  • The GAA  never established an adequate system for how lands would be transfered from generatio
    n to generation. Since the practice of creating a Last Will and Testament before death was not common and in some cases was outright offensive to the traditional inheritance practices of some Native American cultures, these lands passed from one generation to the next without clear divisions of who owned what. Today, lands have become so fractionated that it is common to have several hundred or even thousands of landowners on one piece land. This has created a severe obstacle today for individuals and families wanting to utilize their lands as they need to get permission from the other land owners on decisions related to the land. With limited resources to deal with this situation, the only option for most families is to lease their undivided fractionated lands out – often times to non-natives.
  • Forced Fee Patenting, introduced with the 1906 Burke Act, amended the GAA to give the secretary of the interior the power to issue Indian Allottees determined to be “competent,” fee patents making their lands subject to taxation and sale. In other words, the government privatized indigenous lands. It as widely understood by government officials that lands, privatized under the Burke Act, would soon be liquidated. In 1922 the Government superintendent of the Pine Ride Reservation noted: “Careful observation of the results on the Pine Ridge reservation show that less than five percent of the Indians who receive patents retain their lands.” According to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, between 1997 and 1934, nearly 27,000,000 acres of land was lost as a result of privatization.
  • Indian Allottees determined to be “incompetent, ” under the Burke Act, were not allowed to live on or utilize their allotment, instead it was leased out by the Federal Government to oil, timber, mineral, and grazing interests. In many cases, Allottees did not even receive the income from the leases. This practice was so widespread that a 1915 Department of the Interior, Annual Report of the Pine Ridge Agency, nearly 56% of its residents were deemed “incompetent.” The longterm affect of this practice was how it physically and psychologically alienated Indian Allottees from their lands. For example many families today own land but have never lived on it, used it, or oftentimes, even know where it is located.
The various economic, social, and cultural disruptions created by the these acts over the last century is an underlying cause of poverty on many Native American Reservations today, negatively impacting housing construction, economic development, residency patterns, family and community cohesion, ecological health, cultural self-determination, and political sovereignty.
While we understand that this case, just as De Soto’s Alaskan case, is different in many ways than the case of indigenous peoples from the Peruvian Amazon, we belief that privatizing indigenous lands is dangerous. Indigenous people from Pine Ridge reservation are still struggling from political decisions that led essentially to the de-collectivization of their lands. It is also interesting to note that, in the case of Pine Ridge, as other Native American Reservations in the US, indigenous peoples have NOT been able to keep those resources (mineral, oil, etc.) that the government or private interests find profitable.

LAKOTA BUFFALO CARETAKERS COOPERATIVE TO CELEBRATE DONATION & REFLECT ON PROGRESS

On Friday, September 25, members of the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative (LBCC) will be celebrating the donation of 6 head of buffalo that will be added to their herds. For the 6th consecutive year, Danylchuck Buffalo Ranch, based in Rye, Colorado, will generously donate buffalo to the cooperative. Members of the LBCC will be present at the celebration, making it an exciting opportunity for those interested in learning more about issues of sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty, and Lakota ranching ethics. The event will be free and open to the public, held at the Historic Federal Building, 421 North Main Street, Pueblo, CO.

The Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative is 100% Native American owned and operated, making it (to the best of our knowledge) the only Native American run small family cooperative of buffalo caretakers in the United States. The cooperative is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation, located in South Dakota. All of the meat produced by the group comes from buffalo that are raised on open ranges, grazing on wild grass, and respectfully harvested in the field. This culturally significant and ethical approach to meat production supports the members’ overarching commitments to the restoration of the northern plains ecology, self-sufficiency and strengthening the sovereignty and self-determination of the Oglala Lakota Nation and all indigenous peoples.

After becoming incorporated in the state of South Dakota and having its labels approved by the USDA, the LBCC began selling retail meat last January. The cooperative was the progeny of Village Earth’s (a Fort Collins based NGO, which supports sustainable development through empowerment) Adopt-a-Buffalo project. The project was started as part of Village Earth’s larger vision to support Lakota families in reclaiming and utilizing their legally allotted lands. Due to significant legislation produced in the late 1800s and early 1900s, on Pine Ridge Reservation over 60% of individual Native American land is being leased out, primarily by non-tribal members. Through the Adopt-a-Buffalo initiative, Village Earth helped recover over 2000 acres for buffalo restoration, releasing over 82 head of buffalo onto these lands. Due to the historical and spiritual significance of the buffalo for the Lakota people, Village Earth hopes this project will be a significant step in the process of restoring the reservation’s economy and strengthening cultural pride.

If you have more questions about the event, the LBCC, Village Earth, or any of the larger underlying issues, please contact David Bartecchi at (970) 491-0633 or [email protected]

High Country News Features Village Earth’s Work on Pine Ridge

Read about Village Earth’s work on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Aug 31, 2009 edition High Country News, the award winning news magazine that covers the American West’s public lands, water, natural resources, grazing, wilderness, wildlife, logging, politics, communities, growth and other issues now changing the face of the West. From the Northern Rockies to the desert Southwest, from the Great Plains to the West Coast, High Country News’ coverage spans 11 Western states and is the leading source for regional environmental news, analysis and commentary, making it an essential resource for those who care about the West.
The article (above) written by Josh Zaffos, profiles some of the Lakota families that Village Earth has been working with for several years to utilize and protect the remaining lands on the reservation. The article does an excellent job of describing the challenges faced by tribal members and they struggle to utilize their own lands. According to research done by Zaffos, “more than 19,000 members of the Oglala Sioux tribe have claims to more than 203,000 properties.” The article describes some of the history behind this situation.

Under the Dawes Act of 1887, the federal government doled out 160 acres of land to the head of each Indian family at Pine Ridge and other reservations. Congress could sell off any un-allotted lands, while the Bureau of Indian Affairs would maintain a tribal trust fund of revenues from mineral, oil, timber and grazing leases. (That trust fund is the subject of the ongoing lawsuit brought by Blackfeet tribal member Elouise Cobell in 1996.)

Then, in 1906, Congress passed the Burke Act, which allowed the BIA to measure Native Americans’ “competence” to handle their homestead lands, based on ancestry, cultural assimilation — even the length of a person’s hair. The assessments at Pine Ridge underscored official prejudice: By 1915, government agents had classified 56 percent of the Oglala Lakota living on the reservation as “incompetent,” and 700,000 additional acres were sold off before the practice ceased in 1934. Other parcels allotted to “incompetent” Indians were shifted into the leasing system, which has served mostly non-Native ranchers. But “competent” Indians didn’t make out much better, since they were forced to pay taxes on their allotments. Ninety-five percent of these lands were eventually sold to non-Natives for a fraction of their real value.

And the allotment system had lasting cultural impact: By chopping up the land base, it effectively ended communal hunting practices. As the original allottees died and their children inherited the land, parcels were fractionated among dozens — sometimes hundreds — of heirs.

To read the entire article go to http://www.hcn.org/issues/41.15/a-new-land-grab

Lakota Buffalo Caretakers: A New Paradigm of Agriculture?

3685767798_2b6ec9f73e_bIt is not difficult to argue the case that modern agriculture has reached a crisis stage. We have reached a point where must accept that change must occur, where common-place practices must abandoned, where long established institutions collapse, and ultimately, a new paradigm emerges. It could also be argued that the crisis we are experiencing in modern agriculture is part of a larger crisis evidenced by global warming, the burgeoning divisions between rich and poor, and most recently, the collapse of global capital markets. This can be a disquieting time indeed since, while its clear that change must occur, nobody is quite sure what that change will look like. Speaking about the broader global transition taking place, Colombian born Anthropologist, Arturo Escobar has argued that “Epistemologically this move entails a transition from the dominance of modern science to a plural landscape of knowledge forms. Socially, the transition is between global capitalism and emergent forms of which we only have glimpses in today’s social movements.” Rather, he argues that the emerging social movements, like the growing indigenous rights movement, represents the best hope for reworking many of the problems faced by global capitalism.

In a small way, with our work on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, we are seeing how this “reworking” can manifest. In particular, some of the challenges we have faced in developing a market and supply chain for meat from buffalo raised by a cooperative of Lakota Producers. While, Village Earth has been working to support Lakota buffalo caretakers on Pine Ridge since early 2003, it wasn’t until 2006 when they started talking about forming a cooperative. Over the next few years we had numerous meetings, did our homework, drafted bylaws and articles of incorporation, and by August of 2008 the coop was officially recognized in the State of South Dakota. Less than four months later, the cooperative filled the first order under its label “Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative (LBCC).” To facilitate distribution in northern Colorado (where the best market exists) we helped establish a independently managed L.L.C. Called “Allied Natural Meats.” While it has been less than a year where the coop has been selling its products on the market, we have already learned a great deal where the points of conflict exist between the old paradigm of raising and selling meat, and possibly a new paradigm emerging from the LBCC but informed at a deeper level by the Lakota worldview.

In the dominant paradigm, most livestock, spend only the first six months of their lives in open pastures. After that time they are moved to feedlots where they often have less than 13 square-feet of space per animal, fed a mixture of high-fat grain and ground-up poultry waste until the age of 14 months where they are trucked-off to slaughter houses for processing. While we all may be familiar with this process for cattle, these same practices are bleeding into the buffalo industry, as evidenced by the buffalo feedlot that is being built soon Weld county Colorado, just a few miles from Village Earth’s offices. In fact, most buffalo sold in stores (even health food stores), often spend the last 90 days in a feedlot and then trucked to a slaughter facility, even when they say “grass fed” on the label.

In the Lakota worldview, Buffalo are sacred, and killing one is comparable to killing a human. In fact, one elder explained this to me once by pointing to group of people talking around a fire and asked, “what do you think would happen to the social order of that group over there if we killed three of them?” It is this worldview that makes the notion of sending one to a feedlot an abomination. The Lakota alternative to this is raising buffalo their entire lives on open pastures and respectfully ending their lives in the field. In fact, some families have made this into a sort of right of passage for young men on the reservation, preparing them in ceremony to take the life of the buffalo in a respectful manner. It is said that when this honored, that the animals, within that particular family, are much calmer during the harvest. However, with current USDA regulation, this is a costly way of harvesting animals since it requires the use of a mobile-processing truck to drive out to the pasture so the animals can be gutted and cleaned within 45 minutes of the kill. Yet, despite the fact that the families could be saving approximately $180 per animal by trucking live animals directly to a slaughter facility, and despite the fact that scheduling the truck is very unpredictable, considering it is not able to drive onto their pastures if they are wet or covered in snow, which just this spring caused a 6 week delay in harvesting, despite all this, they have chosen to do it this way.

Another practice that many buffalo ranchers are adopting from the industrial cattle industry is manually weaning calves from their mothers just a few months after they’re born. The advantage that these producers find from doing this is that the calves will start on grain more readily and fatten quicker. However, by doing this you break down the natural clan structure of the buffalo. Bison are herd animals but within each herd there may exist several smaller sub-clans or families. According to legend, the Lakota derived their social structure of the Tiwahe (family) and Tiyospaye (community) from the buffalo. Furthermore, traditional production methods drive producers to harvest their animals at approximately 30 months, the time needed for optimal weight gain. Weaning and always harvesting at the same age destroys the natural social structure of buffalo. According to Ed Iron Cloud from the Knife Chief Buffalo Nation (a member of the LBCC), “it’s like having a bunch of adolescents running around, you NEED the older bulls to protect the herd and you need to elders to keep the social order.” A social principle mirrored in the Lakota culture.

While these are just a few anecdotes, I think they illustrate some of the conflicts that exist between the old paradigm and possibly a new one emerging. One thing that I have really learned from these experiences is that the connecting tissue in this entire system is the consumer. As its name implies, Allied Natural Meats is committed to working with the LBCC to find ways around these conflicts – to “rework” things as Escobar would say. A large part of this has been educating retailers and consumers about why the meat costs more than typical buffalo meat or why things may be delayed a few weeks. This has allowed the LBCC to raise the buffalo in a way that is consistent with their worldview. If in some way this represents a small transference of worldviews that might contribute to the broader social transformation that Escobar has theorized is unclear. What is clear to me is that we can not rely solely on science and the market to solve the problems we face today. Many these problems were already worked-out centuries ago, the answers have just been suppressed, erroneously delegitimized and/or taken for granted. The best way for us to uncover these answers is to work as allies, and rework these lines of conflict.

For more information about the LBCC visit their website at: http://www.lakotabuffalocaretakers.org/

To learn more about Village Earth’s work on the Pine Ridge Reservation visit: //www.villageearth.org/pages/Projects/Pine_Ridge/index.php

Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Launch Retail Meat Sales

This weekend, the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative launched retail sales of packaged grass-fed buffalo meat raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative (LBCC) is a 100% Native American owned and operated cooperative association on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Its membership is made up of small family buffalo caretakers who respect the buffalo and the land.

Buffalo raised by members:

  • Live on open ranges, never in feedlots
  • Eat wild grasses their entire lives
  • Are Free from antibiotics and hormones
  • Respectfully harvested in the field

Members of the LBCC are committed to the restoration of the northern plains ecology, self-sufficiency and strengthening the sovereignty and self-determination of the Oglala Lakota Nation and all indigenous peoples. To the best of our knowledge, the LBCC is the only Native American run cooperative of small family buffalo caretakers in the United States.

Village Earth helped to establish the LBCC starting in 2007. The LBCC was officially incorporated in South Dakota August of 2008. The LBCC has partnered with the Fort Collins based Allied Natural Meats, LLC. which will function as its fair-trade distribution partner. The LBCC currently has the capability to ship wholesale orders throughout the country. However, at this time, the LBCC and Allied Natural Meats, LLC are only set up to do online retail sales in the Fort Collins, Colorado area but hope to be selling national via mail order soon. For more information please visit the LBCC website at http://www.lakotabuffalocaretakers.org.