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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 Announces New Resources to Empower Native American Young People

At the 2023 White House Tribal Youth Summit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers new resources to inspire Native American youth to explore Indigenous foodways and knowledge and highlight career paths at USDA and beyond. These efforts are part of USDA’s commitment to empowering tribal self-determination and bringing Indigenous perspectives into agriculture, food, and nutrition.

“USDA is reimagining how we support Indigenous agriculture and tribal communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This includes reaching out to the next generation with educational opportunities both formal and informal.”

Among USDA actions:

“Sovereignty Gardens” Children’s Educational Animated Series. This series of short educational shows will help build excitement and pride with children about using Indigenous knowledge in gardening, food sovereignty, traditional foods, and healthy eating habits. “Sovereignty Gardens” uses animation and puppetry to follow Stompy the buffalo and his friend Bran through a series of learning adventures, which include cameos by Indigenous and scientific leaders. USDA Office of Tribal Relations entered into a cooperative agreement with Dr. Lee Francis (Pueblo of Laguna) (Indigi-Nerd/Native Realities) to create this animated series

Indigenous Foods Foraging and Cooking Videos for Northeast and Southeast Regions. The Office of Tribal Relations Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative partnered with the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS) to produce a series of videos on Indigenous foods foraging and cooking for the Northeast and Southeast regions to complement USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) (commonly referred to as “commodities”) food packages. Last year, USDA released videos for the Midwest, Mountain Plains, and Southwest regions. Next year videos will be produced for Alaska and Hawaii.

Indigenous Knowledge Research Track Winners. USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations, in partnership with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), announces the first students selected for the newly launched AISES research track celebrating the intersection of Indigenous knowledge (IK) and western science and engineering. Selected students will carry out research projects studying topics such as ethnobotany, mental health, and traditional medicine. This year’s cohort will be the first in a three-year series.

New Four-Year Tuition Coverage for Tribal Scholars Program. The USDA 1994 Tribal Scholars Program provides full tuition, fees, books, a housing stipend, and paid workforce training to any interested and eligible student pursuing degrees in agriculture, food, natural resource sciences, or related academic disciplines at a tribal college or university (TCU). Eligible applicants include graduating high school seniors, full-time students currently enrolled at a 1994 land-grant tribal college or university, or recent TCU associate degree graduates. For FY 2024, 27 scholarship slots are available at: Agriculture Research Service, Farm Service Agency, Farm Production and Conservation, Forest Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and Natural Resources Conservation Service. The application deadline is December 1, 2023. Visit the USDA 1994 Tribal Scholars Program or email [email protected] for further information.

New Forest Corps National Service Opportunity for Native Youth. AmeriCorps and U.S. Forest Service launched Forest Corps – a five-year $15 million agreement, and the first major interagency partnership under President Biden’s American Climate Corps. Beginning Summer 2024, this program will engage 80 young adults, ages 18-26, in wildland fire prevention, reforestation, and other natural and cultural resource management projects to support the U.S. Forest Service’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy and Reforestation Strategy. Native youth will be recruited for Forest Corps in key locations to support cultural resource management projects. AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps/Forest Corps members will receive a compensation package equivalent to $15 an hour, including lodging, transportation, clothing, a living allowance, health benefit, and more. Members will receive extensive training, hands-on-experience, and leadership skills for future careers in natural resource management, forest health, and climate resilience at the U.S Forest Service or other organizations. 

USDA Expands Access to Traditional Indigenous Foods in Schools. Soon, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will open applications on Grants.gov for the Supporting the Use of Traditional Indigenous Foods in the Child Nutrition Programs Cooperative Agreement. FNS will award a total of $2 million in grants to four organizations – either led by or partnering with an Indigenous organization or tribe – to provide regionally focused training and technical assistance to school nutrition professionals. The training and technical assistance will focus on school food procurement, preparation, and crediting of traditional Indigenous foods. Funds may be used to support the use of traditional Indigenous foods in school lunch, school breakfast, summer meals, meals and snacks served to children after school, and culturally relevant nutrition education for students. Each of the cooperative agreements will be awarded in four different regions of the country to maximize the number of tribes being served.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Holds Hearing on Fentanyl Use in Indian Country

On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), vice chairman of the Committee, led an oversight hearing titled, “Fentanyl in Native Communities: Native Perspectives on Addressing the Growing Crisis.”

“Fentanyl – a potent synthetic opioid – is contributing to a rapid rise in opioid-related deaths across the country, and Native communities are getting hit extra hard,” Chairman Schatz said “We have to listen to Native leaders, organizations, and health care professionals and support Native-led solutions to fight fentanyl in their homelands and surrounding communities.”

“Today, the Indian Affairs Committee held the first in a series of hearings on the fentanyl crisis,” Vice Chairman Murkowski said. “American Indian and Alaska Native populations had the highest drug overdose rates in both 2020 and 2021. Expert witnesses from Native communities shared how tribal leaders and Native health experts are responding to the crisis. I thank the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) for their testimony on the impacts to Alaska Natives and for recommending ways to provide better intervention, treatment, and prevention.”

IRS to Provide Virtual Workshop on Energy Tax Credits

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced a virtual outreach workshop on Tuesday, December 12th at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time to discuss clean energy tax credits for tribes. These credits were included as part of last year's Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and opened up new options to tribes through Elect/Direct Pay tax credits. 

The IRS will be sending a Microsoft Teams invite in a future email.

The IRA allows Indian tribal governments and Alaskan Native Corporations to benefit from certain clean energy tax credits through elective pay. For tax years beginning after December 31, 2022, an applicable entity that qualifies for a clean energy tax credit can make an elective payment election. This election will treat certain credits as a payment against their federal income tax liabilities rather than as a nonrefundable credit. The amount of the credit will first offset any tax liability of the entity and any excess will be refundable.  

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