With more than 300 tribal leaders in attendance for the 2013 White House Tribal Nations Conference, Tom Vilsack, secretary of the Department of Agriculture, took the time to commemorate Native American Heritage Month, while recognizing USDA programs that are strengthening communities throughout Indian country.
"This month, USDA is highlighting its support for Native Americans and the Department's longstanding partnership with tribes and tribal members," Vilsack said. "We take great pride in our work to help Native Americans start and expand businesses, buy homes, improve community infrastructure and preserve their land and culture. During Native American Heritage Month, it is particularly fitting to recognize the important contributions Native Americans have made and continue to make on behalf of this great nation."
Vilsack stressed the need for a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will expand the rural economy adding to the USDA support for Native Americans and their communities. The Bill would cover a spectrum of the department’s programs.
During his speech to tribal representatives from many of the 566 federally recognized tribes, Native organizations, Congress members, and other cabinet members, he highlighted the work that has been completed during the 2013 fiscal year, like the Rural Development’s Electric Program that invested $275 million to improve and expand the electric infrastructure for more than 80,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Vilsack highlighted the Community Facilities program, where the Department’s Rural Development invested $114 million over 73 loans and grants that represented a 600 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2012. This year the USDA recorded its largest single investment to a tribe, when the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians received $40 million in a direct loan and $10 million in a loan guarantee that is being used to build the tribe a state-of-the-art healthcare facility.
The secretary also used the spotlight to announce 24 grants recently awarded to tribal colleges to upgrade infrastructure and make other improvements. All recipients must meet certain criteria within the grant agreement to receive it.