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USDA Census Reveals Non-Native Producers Dominate on Most Native American Reservations
Recently released 2007 Agricultural data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for Native American Reservations reveal that non-native agricultural producers dominate on most Native American Reservations in the United States.
By: Village Earth
The USDA has conducted its quinquennial Census of Agriculture for every county in the United States since 1840 but was not until 2007 when it began collecting this agricultural data for Native American Reservations. While Village Earth recognizes that this data-set is not complete, representing only 73 of the 388 Native American Reservations in the U.S., the results are consistent with data collected by a study from Colorado State University and with its experience working with Native producers in their efforts to utilize their own lands.
The unequal land-use patterns seen on reservations today is a direct outcome of discriminatory lending practices, land fractionation and specifically Federal policies over the last century that have excluded native land owners from the ability to utilize their lands while at the same time opening it up to non-native farmers and ranchers. Discriminatory lending practices, as argued in court cases such as the pending Keepseagle vs. Vilsack, claim that Native Americans have been denied roughly 3 billion in credit. Another significant obstacle is high degree of fractionation of Reservation lands caused by the General Allotment Act (GAA) of 1887. Over a century of unplanned inheritance under the GAA has created a situation where reservation lands have become severely fractionated. Today, for a Native land owner to consolidate and utilize his or her allotted lands they may have to get the signed approval of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate land owners. As a result of this complexity, most Indian land owners have few options besides leasing their lands out as part of the Federal Government's leasing program. Additionally, historical and racially-based policies by the Federal government have been designed to exclude Native American farmers and ranchers from utilizing their own lands, opening them up to non-natives for a fraction of their far market value.
The leasing of Indian Lands by the Federal Government dates back the the the Act of February 28, 1891 which amended the General Allotment Act to give the Secretary of the Interior the power to determine whether an Indian allottee had the “mental or physically qualifications”
According to Village Earth, the disparity in land use on Native American Reservations will only worsen with each new generation until Native Americans are given a fair chance at accessing the credit and other forms assistance available to non-natives. Additionally, the Government should honor its obligation as trustee and pay the 47 billion dollars in revenue it has received for the leasing of Native American lands over the last 120 years. Lastly, the Department of Interior should place special emphasis on repairing the fractionation problem created by the General Allotment Act by providing information and support to individual allottees to consolidate and utilize their lands. In particular, speeding up the appraisal and survey process for which they are responsible.
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Village Earth empowers communities to sustainably access and manage the resources needed to achieve their vision for the future by working directly with communities as allies, distributing appropriate technology information, as well as providing training, consultation and networking services to individuals, communities and organizations around the globe.