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Tips of the Hat Before a New Beginning: Ross Racine

Greetings from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. I want to thank all of you for your congratulations and well wishes in my new role. I look forward to continuing the great work of the Intertribal Agriculture Council and striving to improve our lands through conservation, our economies through value-added agriculture, and our most valuable resource--our people, young and old--through our ongoing education, technical assistance, and outreach efforts.

Part and parcel of moving forward is acknowledging the efforts of those who have built the foundation we’re building on. I’ve learned more than I could ever share from the former leadership of the IAC; from the members of the Indian Ag Working Group, to the past Directors of the Board; IAC Staff one and all, and last but not least the previous Executive Directors Ross Racine and Greg Smitman. This series of articles will seek to help you get a sense of our well established foundation.

First and foremost; I’d like to share a bit about my predecessor Ross Racine, who worked for the IAC when I took my first part-time job here in the 90’s. A tremendous mentor, and an even better friend, who has devoted his entire professional life to improving the ability of Indian producers to prosper in their Ag endeavors. When I first met him, he supervised an IAC program different than the one I was working for, and I was glad. While I toyed with the idea of a career in the military when I was younger, I hadn’t much interest in working for someone that seemed a cross between a grizzly bear and drill sergeant from a distance. Any of you that know Ross have likely seen this demeanor manifested from time to time. I was pretty green, and new to the policy side of agriculture and probably wasn’t ready.

What I didn’t understand then is that what intimidated me was the embodiment of leadership. Leadership with a vision and passion for improving the lives of countless folks he’d likely never meet. One of the qualities that I hope I’ve been able to start to improve in myself through his mentorship. Another of the qualities that he possesses is humility, nearly to a fault. Serving with him for the past 8 years, seeing firsthand the results of his leadership in Indian Country, made me realize that few will ever know the impact he’s had on their everyday life. Future articles will seek to share some of those impacts.

Shortly after I first started working with the IAC full time in 2010; Ross shared one of his favorite reads with me. A book called Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford. As another mentor of mine--my dad--would no doubt tell you, I’m slow on the uptake. He might not be the only one. Be that as it may; I finally got the book, gave it a read, and it has become one of the foundations of my beliefs of Indian Agriculture, Science, and Governance. I have shared it with almost everybody I’ve encountered ever since. Many a cab/lyft/uber drivers, confused airport acquaintances, and folks I’ve had occasion to have meetings with, in the last few years have my business card with “Indian Givers-Jack Weatherford” scribbled on the back of it. With any luck at all, I won’t be as slow on the uptake of the other lessons my friend offered me. The same week that he transitioned from his role as Executive Director, one of the victims of my proselytizing committed to trying to get this book into her school’s agriculture curriculum.

I had the good fortune to visit Ross at his sanctuary up on Racine Basin last spring. As he transitions to spending more time up there, and as we start to compose the next chapter for the Intertribal Agriculture Council, we will do our best to fill the shoes of him and the others who created this path we’re travelling on. With that my friend, on behalf myself, my Tribe, and Indian Country in general; I want to thank you for your work. From me, personally, thanks for the lessons in leadership, passion, dedication, and vision. I’ll forever be in debt to the IAC for the opportunities I’ve been afforded; and to you for your mentorship and friendship.

Zach Ducheneaux

Newly appointed Executive Director



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