Getting Indians into Agriculture

May 15th, 1994 | By | Category: 6-1: Media and Information, Tribal College News
By Jennifer Gray Reddish

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.

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