There are more than 80,000 Indian Country farmers and ranchers contributing to the food system in areas all across the United States and this does not include their impact on the entire 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.
The following Elevate Ag Hope Story features – Sha’Teal Rae Pearman:
Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation
Natural Resources Program Assistant for the Intertribal Agriculture Council and visionary behind www.facebook.com/JustBreatheCampaign/
Pursuing Masters in Ag Education with a Specialization in Curriculum Development from South Dakota State University
A kid from the “rez” isn’t going to college, let alone graduate. Sha’Teal Rae Pearman heard this more times than she can count. Pearman did not listen to these naysayers, but wanted to prove them wrong and she did just that. Later, she could also not bear to listen to the incomplete information being shared in one of her college courses teaching agricultural policy.
“The professor was talking about the Farm Bill. I had worked on the Farm Bill with the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) in Washington D.C. during the Farm Bill Fly-In,” Pearman, who, (among her many commitments) now serves as the Natural Resources Program Assistant for the IAC said. “I stood up in class one day and said, ‘Are you going to bring up the points about Indian Agriculture in the Farm Bill?’ He got mad. He told me I was rude and that I should not be challenging him with his level of academic experience.”
“After that, we had to write a paper and I wrote it on the Farm Bill,” Pearman went on. “In every aspect of that class, I wrote on Indian Agriculture and correlated it back to Indian Country. The teacher’s eyes were finally opened. After the class was over, he asked me to help write Native ag curriculum into that class. Now he teaches a whole section on Indian Ag. I still got a C for being rude. But it does not matter. I stood up for something I believed in.”
Today, Pearman continues to stand up for all Native people serving in some area of the ag realm. She is also pursuing a Masters in Ag Education with a Specialization in Curriculum Development from South Dakota State University. Pearman decided she is well-suited to teach others after “inspiration” from her former professor.
“The schools on the reservation have ag programs. But we could do a better job teaching traditional uses of plants and other aspects of Indian agriculture that have been lost. We need to talk about subjects like leases, and the process of obtaining a lease, and how getting access to capital is hard on the reservation. We are considered a credit desert in many areas. These are obstacles our parents had to go through to get where they are at and they are things the next generation needs to understand,” she pointed out.
Involvement with her family’s ranch is also a priority of Pearman’s, “Growing up I did not have as deep as roots on the ranch as I do now. I help my dad with the business aspect, paperwork, and stuff like that. I also help hands-on too.”
“It took a little while, but I think dad realized I knew a little bit of what I was talking about. I mean, I did go to school to learn about these topics,” she said. “My favorite part is learning from him, talking about agriculture, and what is going on at the ranch. Sometimes my Grandpa Rusty talks about how things have changed too. My dad has a bit more of an open ear than he used to and takes ideas into consideration. At least he is listening. He knows I won’t give up either. He says, ‘God you guys just don’t give up do you?’ No, we don’t.”
“One thing dad helped me notice is what I bring to the table. He is very encouraging to my sisters and brothers. That is a big part of us thinking we can succeed in an industry that is predominantly men. Having his support and the support of IAC is big to me,” Pearman went on about communicating with her father. “With all of us kids, we all have different aspects that come together and make it work.”
Making it work, means working hard for Pearman. She balances her position with the IAC with her post-college pursuits, helping her mom Nicky White Eyes at her business, and working with her dad on the ranch. As if this was not enough, she also founded a non-profit in high school, “Just Breathe” to help give support to those impacted by suicide, an issue she has been deeply impacted by firsthand. “I have been out of high school five years and have given out nine scholarships so far through Just Breathe. We are excited to get back to hands-on work too. I have a lot of ambassadors eager to get going again and start community projects.”
“One thing I always want to get across to the younger generations is to keep going,” she said. “Things may not seem the way you want them to be right now, but things do get better. Keep onto the dream you want, and you will get there. I am a big advocate for the younger generation. That, I take my most pride in.”
Pearman has big goals to keep going, growing, and improving the world around her every day, “I try to keep an open mind about things. I’ve learned that throughout my collegiate career. You obtain more with an open mind. My hope is that everyone around me can keep an open mind about regenerative practices. My biggest goal is to get producers to change their mindsets about agriculture because I know in the long run, we can make things better.”
Pearman is definitely dreaming about a more positive future for Indian Agriculture, and she said, “I just want more people to know we are here. We are doing the best we can with what we are given. A lot of us don’t have the ability to buy land. Most producers have to lease the land they use. It just can’t be compared the same across the board because of the circumstances that we were given or put in. Still, Indian Country adapts. We are resilient and we get through everything we face.”
Story by: Kerry Hoffschneider