By Colleen Keane
Special To The Times
When more than two dozen youth from southwestern tribe gathered recently for a Native youth agricultural summit, a roomful of dreams spilled out.
“My dream is to create a functional community garden and to bring back the traditional teachings that were taught to me,” said Kyle White, Diné from Crownpoint.
“My dream is to own an organic farm, create an educational component, and encourage Native American youth to learn about agriculture,” said Azelya Yazzie, Diné/Blackfeet from Montana, who now lives in San Diego, California.
“My dream is to carry on my traditional teachings so I can pass them along to my children when I have a family,” said Kayden Murphy, Diné, who is originally from Gallup. Murphy attends school in Moriarty. He added that he plans to start his own livestock processing plant back in the Gallup area after he finishes his education. The operation will be accessible to local ranchers so that middle man costs can be cut and income kept in the community.
Other tribal youth and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 envisioned creating sustainable housing, revitalizing indigenous farming, while becoming experts in environmental engineering, to mention a few more aspirations that surfaced during the three-day seminar held at the Santa Claran Hotel and Casino in Española, from Aug. 19-21.
The Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Regional Summit hosted by the University of Arkansas School of Law and the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) aims to engage tribal youth to become agricultural leaders in their communities. The sponsors host similar regional and national seminars around the country. Enrolled tribal youth or tribal descendants are eligible to apply.
“The hope is that the younger generations will be food producers so they can be great leaders in the future,” said Bryan Pollard, Director of Tribal Relations for the Arkansas School of Law’s Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative.
To attend, students had to complete the application, provide references and explain how they have taken on community leadership roles and have helped their communities with agricultural initiatives.
Food sovereignty was the underlying theme of the seminar.
“We wouldn’t be so dependent on the federal government if we produced our own food,” IAC board member Zach Duchenaux, Cheyenne River Sioux, told the students. By doing this, he said that there would be no more food deserts in tribal communities, referring to the scarcity of fresh fruits and vegetables, and unprocessed foods.
“We need to go back to our traditions and get away from eating junk food and going to fast food restaurants,” said Murphy who is a freshman at Moriarty High School.
“There are a lot of people with diabetes,” he noted.
Added White, “Where I live it’s very rural and isolated. We have to travel one hour away to get access to fresh produce.”
Continuing, Duchenaux talked about the need to rebuild the food system in tribal communities. “This is a movement!” he emphasized.
To provide youth with the skills and knowledge they need to become agricultural experts, the seminar gave them inside information on how to start businesses, capture the food dollar, secure loans, and become USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) certified organic farmers.
Raphael Nevins, one of the founders of Healthy Futures, an organization that helps farms become organically certified, told the students that there’s a great need for Native American owned enterprises.
“In New Mexico there are only three Native American farms and organizations that are certified organic,” he stated.
Healthy Futures is creating a digital application that will help with the process.
According to Nevins, the electronic notebook will allow growers to collect field data offline they need for USDA organic farming applications, like the types of seeds they are planting, or the fertilizer they are using, and then upload it when they get to Internet access. The app should be available this coming spring.
“All of this is within your grasp!” Nevins exclaimed referring to the ability to make their dreams reality.
He added that they can get assistance from regional university extension servicers that are located throughout the country.
Duchenaux noted that there’s plenty of funds to tap into, referring to the Bureau of Indian Affairs annual $2.9 billion budget, Indian Health Services $5.1 billion budget and casino revenue estimated at $34 billion.
When it comes to securing funds he told them to never take “no” for an answer. Giving an example, he described how IAC secured a 90% discount on a federal conservation program after first being told it was unachievable.
The initiative encourages mentorships between youth, tribal leaders, and agricultural experts.
White said that he and about 30 other youth from five schools in Crownpoint receive support from former Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim through a grass roots organization called Navajo Community Health Outreach.
“We are establishing a community garden,” said White adding that the group also conducts healthy food demonstrations and makes presentation of their work. White mentioned that the Bread Loaf School of English in Santa Fe, provides tutoring in writing and creating presentations.
When Murphy returns to Gallup to start his local business, he said the first person he is going to turn to is his grandpa, who he said has been working on Navajo Nation lands for may years.
Yazzie said that her mentor is Kier Johnson-Reyes, Osage Nation.
“He opened so many doors for me. Ever since then, he started mentoring me, I’ve been active in agriculture more than I expected to be. It is really great!” she said.
Yazzie mentioned that she hopes that other students have the opportunity to participate in Native youth agricultural summits, so that they can develop their skills and can return to help their communities.
“I think we have to stand up right now and educate our people on what we are eating and why it’s bad for us. We can benefit each other by growing our own food and becoming sustainable and sovereign,” she said
For more information, indianaglink.com/youth.