Getting Indians into AgricultureMay 15th, 1994 | By jgrayreddish | Category: 6-1: Media and Information, Tribal College News
A recent survey of agricultural programs at tribal colleges conducted by the University of California, Davis reported that 70 percent of the 2 5 colleges studied offered agricultural or related courses.
However, the lack of student interest and funding has caused many colleges to discontinue these programs, according to the report, Agricultural Programs in Native American Community Colleges.
Dr. Jack Forbes, who headed the survey committee, found this disturbing, arguing that one of the main goals for these institutions was to “train Indians as experts… on agriculture.”
The job driven atmosphere at many of the community colleges was cited as a reason for the unpopularity of many of the agricultural programs.
Agriculture is a costly venture, and the poor soil and meager water supplies on many of the reservations necessitate expensive green houses and intensive gardening techniques that many students cannot afford once they have completed college.
The best land, even on the larger reservations, is often owned or leased by non-Indian farmers. Without proper capital to start their own ranches, many Indians find themselves relegated to wage-labor or salaried positions on farms rather than self-operated enterprises.
This has made farming programs unattractive to many American Indian students at tribal colleges who are seeking better-paying jobs through education.
The survey recommends that the federal government provide the full funding authorized by Congress. It also suggests that companies who use agricultural commodities developed by Native Americans pay a small royalty to an indigenous-controlled educational foundation chartered by Congress.
The report recommends that “if white agencies can patent strains of tomatoes, corn, etc., developed originally by Native Americans, then the indigenous developers should be recognized. Small royalties paid on the sale of the seeds or genetic material of maize, tomatoes, squash, beans, peanuts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, jojoba, etc., would probably generate enough money to fund Native education programs throughout the Americas and make future Congressional appropriations unnecessary.”
The survey supported efforts of colleges to create cooperative programs with neighboring institutions in the field of agriculture. It also suggested that colleges consider building programs to train students for careers with the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and other federal agencies.
Overall, the survey stressed the maintenance of tribal agricultural education programs—which could benefit the future of Indian students, and the reservations themselves.