IAC Connection through Osage Roots

Keir Johnson-Reyes was the only grandchild in his immediate family who had the distinct honor of meeting his Grandfather. It is a chance meeting Johnson-Reyes takes very seriously, even though he was very young, “The one thing my Grandfather said he could leave to us, that was of the highest value, was being Osage. That was very important to him.”


Keir’s connection to his Osage community led to him becoming involved with the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC), where he has recently been promoted to serve as Technical Assistance (TA) Director, overseeing the TA team at IAC.


During the 2013 annual Osage Inlonshka dances, Johnson-Reyes met then Eastern Oklahoma TA, Steven Bond, who is a longtime friend of a friend. They struck up a conversation about Keir’s work and interests in traditional seed preservation, and the two connected immediately. Several months went by and the Pacific Region (California/Nevada) TA position opened up for the first time. Steven shared the opportunity with Keir and the rest was history.


Keir’s strong passion for traditional foods and agriculture was refined when he was in college, “I had been interested in healthy foods and gained a greater interest in traditional foods.”


He started to grow experience in sustainable mixed vegetable production and involved himself heavily into community ag projects, he added, “In college, I learned about permaculture design and spent my free time helping on farms near the Bay Area, learning even more about where food comes from.”


“During my Osage naming in Oklahoma, while in college, I connected with the now Assistant Chief for the Osage Nation (and IAC eastern Oklahoma board member) – Raymond Redcorn. He connected me to folks growing our Traditional corn varieties back in 2011. In California, I started growing and selecting for certain traits. My intention was always to contribute what I was growing back to my Tribal community in Oklahoma.”


In recalling the experience of being hired by IAC he said, “The Pacific Region TA position opened up and Steven floated my information to IAC Executive Director at the time– Ross Racine and Zach Ducheneaux – who was serving as the TA Director.”


Then, to Johnson-Reyes’s pleasant and completely shocked surprise, he was asked to come to Albuquerque, N.M. to be interviewed by Racine and Ducheneaux while they were attending a conference, “To be honest, I was afraid of flying and felt over my head. I thought to myself, ‘Who am I to deserve this opportunity to even talk to them?’”


“My wife, Glenda, was like, ‘Just go! Take this opportunity that has arrived on your lap!’ She really helped me to gain enough courage. So, I got on the flight and put my best foot forward. When I got there, I sat down with them and laid my heart on the table. I said, ‘These are my interests and passions, and this is the direction I want to take things. I feel so passionate about working for Native communities and Tribal food systems.’”


“They hired me on the spot, and it was beautiful,” he went on to explain. “I had another semester of school to complete and will always be grateful to IAC because I came on staff, but they let me finish my schooling.”


Upon starting in 2014, Johnson-Reyes plunged into learning about the complexities of government/Tribal relations amongst the 109 federally recognized Tribes in California and the 27 federally recognized Tribes in Nevada as well as the programming, and operations of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the region. It was all about building partnerships, “It has been very humbling to say the least. This was my path. I had my faith, connections and drive and I had to start from scratch.”


Woven within him are his Osage roots and the natural affinity to all things Indian agriculture stirring his creativity, he said, “I am passionate about this work because we are working for the betterment of Native people first and foremost. Food ties us to our culture, community, ancestry, way of life, ceremonies, religions, and daily practices. The cultivation, gathering, processing, and displays of gratitude are central points of our existence as Native peoples.”


Just as there are steps in his process of personal and professional growth, Johnson-Reyes has taken steps from growing a regional presence as a TA, then taking on an expanded role as the TA Lead and now the TA Director, “I feel very grateful to have a strong relationship with each of the staff members at IAC. I know these relationships are strong and will continue to grow. The resourcefulness of the IAC TA network is very critical. We are living and breathing the work of IAC daily and are the ‘ground troops,’ that constitute the primary presence and reach of the organization, who directly assist in implementing IAC programs.”


Johnson-Reyes pointed out that the TA network is assisting Indian agriculture in all regions of the country, “Someone is working for you whether you know it or not. It’s very strategic for Native producers to engage with our TA Network because of the host of resources and expertise that we can share, and the fact that we are here for them.”


An educator and mentor at heart, raised by educators, and inspired to remain ever-connected to the dances and traditions that make up his Osage roots, Johnson-Reyes has not planned to stop learning either. In addition to his TA directorship, he is also pursuing a graduate program in Federal Indian Law, “That is also part of my new horizon because I want to continue to fortify myself to be of greatest service. That is what is so powerful and amazing about all the roles at the IAC. Everyone is always learning. To be able to contribute to this inspiring space day-to-day is something I take very seriously, and it is also the greatest joy. I feel at home in this work.”


Connect with Keir at keir@indianag.org

Find the TA network contact information at: www.indianag.org/technicalassistance

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