There are more than 80,000 Indian Country farmers and ranchers contributing to the food system in areas all across the United States and the world. They are diverse and resilient in their endeavors and have much to teach us.
In a series of stories, Elevate Ag is uplifting the resilience and great contributions made by these neighbors every day – in particular, Native women. As we continue to strive for the optimum in crops, livestock, and other agricultural endeavors, we need to learn from others. In that learning, bridges are built, and opportunities unfold with, hope.
Lakota rancher on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation
Director of Programs for the Intertribal Agriculture Council indianag.org and Rancher at dxbeef.com
There’s a tremendous weight on Kelsey Scott’s shoulders when she wakes up on her family’s fourth-generation ranch on the banks of the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation along the Missouri River in North Central South Dakota. It is the weight of generations of ancestors, their pain, and their resilience.
“I really, really look forward to the day when somebody in our lineage does not feel the overwhelming weight of waking up in the morning knowing there is still food insecurity and there is still food with little nutritional value that we are feeding in our school systems,” Scott said.
Elevate Ag clearly understands we cannot take the weight off the shoulders of our neighbors alone. What we can begin to do is elevate stories, like Scott’s, that inform others living right next door to us in worlds entirely different than our own. Indian Country agriculturists deserve the same dignity and respect as any of our neighbors. In our quest to understand, we simply want you to sit back, listen and consider deeply the role you can play in the solution to a better agriculture and food system for all.
Scott, in addition to her commitment to the ranch, also serves as the Director of Programs at the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC). It is an organization that sculpted her through its youth programming and into adulthood. It is also an organization that she watched her father, Zach Ducheneaux, rise within. He now sits in a national role as the first Native American to serve in the politically appointed seat of Administrator of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA).
“I have appreciated coming into the work at the IAC, largely because it’s producer-driven and producer-focused all of the time. We need more people in influential roles being influenced by those on-the-ground mindsets because they are not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk,” Scott pointed out. “I believe strongly in working with organizations that view the glass half full, but connect with those at the other end of the spectrum stuck in a reality where it can feel like the glass is half empty.”
“Every single individual who feels like socially disadvantaged communities should pull themselves up by the bootstraps, forget the boots were stolen from the individuals who are often stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty,” she said. “So much is driven by the baseline need for dollars to flow inside and outside an economy. You can’t expect things to magically show up in the air when so much of Indian Country’s assets were depleted in our land base in the last 100 to 150 years. That is how immature we are in our ability to rebalance that fluctuation in the system and to regain control and demand justice in our food and ag systems.”
“We’ll notice a quicker rebalancing of this system if we have individuals outside Indian Country recognize that the reservation line was not always there. Tribal communities weren’t always plagued with the symptoms of poverty, like poor healthcare, lack of access to food, and substandard education. These symptoms are merely a set of circumstances that were given to us when our land and way of life was stolen from us. And, we’ve learned how resilient we are in the face of these circumstances,” she illustrated.
Then Scott sent out a call to action for all of us, “When you take down the barriers that force resiliency, you will see a spike in innovation and creativity.”
Creativity, diversity and connectedness to all living creatures is at the center of many Native traditions, as diverse as the 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States, “There is so much conversation now around the need for reflection regarding how Indigenous people used to exist. Monocultures were not a reality in any of our agricultural systems and we need to really use this as a learning experience and get back to that diversity.”
Reaching across reservation lines in an effort to inspire real, tangible results takes genuine connections, she said, “Connection means you are informed about the communities and about the people you are serving that are dependent on the soil. It ensures you are reaching out to the next generation behind you.”
There is a Lakota teaching, Scott shared in closing, that says, “The life you live today is supposed to live on for the next seven generations after you. I think that holds really true. When I am thinking about food systems, it’s not about maximizing this year’s production. I am thinking seven generations from now. I can reflect on what has come before me. I can really value and appreciate and respect my place in this timeline of human existence on the planet. I do not want seven generations from now to face the same perils.” Story by Kerry Hoffschneider