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WASHINGTON — In addition to articles already covered by Native News Online, here is a roundup of other news released from Washington, D.C. that impacts Indian Country recently.

 USDA Secretary Vilsack Discusses Eliminating Systemic Barriers in Indian Country

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack discussed with tribal and economic development leaders at his keynote at the Reservation Economic Summit (RES) earlier this month the major systemic barriers to accessing USDA.The next USDA Barriers Consultation will be April 22-26, 2024. Here is progress made to date:

  • Tribal Trust Lands Determined Eligible: The U.S. Forest Service clarified that tribal trust lands are not to be classified as “federal” lands and are eligible to serve as “base property” to qualify for Forest and National Grasslands grazing permits. This change finally gives tribal producers the same fair chance as all producers at permits.
  • Tribal Government Consent Required: Rural Development clarified that the permits and approvals for large infrastructure projects - broadband and electric - that are required before financing includes tribal government approvals when building on tribal lands through a tribal resolution of consent.
  • Tribal Government-Owned Entities Determined Eligible: Rural Development clarified tribal-owned entities (arms and instrumentalities) are eligible for economic development programs like Community Facilities and Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) programs.
  • Indigenous Animals Eligible: The Farm Service Agency (FSA) ensured that bovine tuberculosis (M. bovis) in bison was eligible for the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP). AMS created the Indigenous Animals Meat Processing Grant (IAG) to acknowledge the unique Indigenous animals and processing methods in Indian Country.
  • Indigenous Foods Included: The Food and Nutrition Service ensured Indigenous starchy vegetables - like timpsila (prairie turnips) – can now be used instead of grain requirements. School lunch guidelines have been updated to clarify that Indigenous foods are eligible, and foods like buffalo and salmon are included.
  • Tribal Homelands Honored: The U.S. Forest Service has signed more than 180 agreements with Tribal nations under the Joint Secretarial Order (JSO) on Co-Stewardship increasing Tribal participation and decision making in their original homelands that are now with the USFS.
CDC Seeks Tribal Input on a Survey of Food Safety Practices in Jails and Prisons 

CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental recently began an initiative to improve food safety in jails and prisons throughout the United States. Before developing tailored tools and resources for these facilities, the agency desires to have a better understanding of the range of food service operations, training, and needs at a variety of jails and prisons. They have designed a survey for people working in Tribal, federal, state, local, or territorial correctional facilities to gather this information.

Further background is included in this Dear Tribal Leader Letter . Questions may be directed to Naomi Drexler at [email protected]. The survey closes on March 30.

SAMHSA Expands Online Platform for Tribal Behavioral Health Agenda

The Tribal Behavioral Health Agenda , published in 2016, was a monumental collaborative effort between many Tribes, leaders, organizations, and federal agencies. In 2022, Substance Abues and Mental Health Services Adminiistration (SAMHSA) began the process of convening Tribal leaders and federal agencies to discuss the next steps for the agenda. During these discussions, Tribal leaders emphasized the need for increased awareness and application of the agenda.

To make it more accessible and user friendly, SAMHSA has expanded to this online platform. It contains information on the agenda's component parts and complementary resources.

Lawmakers Introduce Arctic Diplomacy Act in the House

On Wednesday, Representatives Mary Peltola (D-AK-AL), Jim Baird (R-IN-04), Rick Larsen (D-WA-02), and Mark Amodei (R-NV-02) introduced H.R. 7727, the Arctic Diplomacy Act, a bipartisan bill to establish an Ambassador at-Large for the Arctic region. The legislation would mandate filling the position of Arctic Ambassador, making it a requirement for any administration to have an official in charge of monitoring international relations in the Arctic region.

“The politics and geography of the Arctic are changing quickly, and our country needs to keep up. Alaskans make the United States an Arctic nation, and we know how important the North is for the future of national security and trade,” said Rep. Peltola. “We need a congressional mandate for the at-large ambassador to the Arctic. I’m grateful to my colleagues in the Lower 48 for their support for our nation’s priorities in our important region.”

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