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USDA official visit Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, College

By Alyssa Nenemay

Blazer: US Department of Agriculture representative Butch Blazer (Left) receives a Confederated Salish and Kootenai emblem T-Shirt from Mike Durlgo. Blazer is a member of the Mescalero Apache nation and has had a successful career in forestry. Blazer: US Department of Agriculture representative Butch Blazer (Left) receives a Confederated Salish and Kootenai emblem T-Shirt from Mike Durlgo. Blazer is a member of the Mescalero Apache nation and has had a successful career in forestry.

PABLO — Butch Blazer from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) visited the Flathead Reservation recently to meet with the CS&KT Council and tour the Salish Kootenai College’s natural resources department.

Blazer said his visit was an introduction to open dialogue between the CS&KT and the USDA. “We’re continuing to work with the secretary’s office to build a strong team that can be more responsive to tribes and tribal needs… In order for the USDA to address tribal issues we have to know them,” he said.

A member of the Mescalero Apache nation, Blazer serves as the USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. His responsibilities include overseeing the US Forest Service, which protects and manages more than 190 million acres of national forest lands. Blazer also oversees the Natural Resources Conservation Services, which is a “federal agency that works with landowners to conserve natural resources on private lands.”

According to its site, the USDA “provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management.”

The department is made up of ten different branches: Agriculture, Education and Outreach, Food and Nutrition, Laws and Regulation, Marketing and Trade, Natural Resources and Environment, Research and Science, Rural and Community Development, Travel and Recreation and USDA Employee Services.

During his visit, Blazer said that the USDA recently added two Native Americans to its staff. Patrice Kunesh of the Standing Rock Lakota nation was appointed as the USDA Deputy Under Secretary in Rural Development. Kunesh is the administrator for the Rural Utilities, Business Cooperative, and Housing Services.

Leslie Wheelock of the Oneida nation was appointed to serve in the USDA Office of Tribal Relations. Wheelock is responsible for ensuring that relevant programs and policies are efficient, easy to understand, accessible, and developed in consultation with the Native American and Alaskan Native communities they impact.

Blazer said he has been working with youth groups to encourage an interest in natural resource careers. Having had a long career in forest management, including being the first Native American “state forester” of New Mexico, Blazer said he was particularly impressed with the opportunities SKC provides through its Environmental Science, Forestry, and Hydrology Bachelor of Science degree programs

“I’m so impressed with what you’ve been able to do here with the professional forestry positions that you’re able to fill with your own people. That’s what the late Wendell Chino told me. He said: ‘Tribal lands need to be managed by tribal people and tribal colleges play a key part in that,” said Blazer.

Blazer was asked to share what advancement he is seeing being implemented in Indian Country and he recalled a sustainable food conference he attended with the Oneida nation. Blazer said the tribe is very interested in developing its own sustainable food operations on their reservation and the USDA has funding available for such efforts.

“If tribes can develop the capacity to grow their own food, employ their own people, and create the nutrition for their own programs that’s what the USDA wants to support. I see tribes addressing many of the issues we have on our reservations through something like this. That is something I hope we will work more with the tribes on,” he said.

In closing, Blazer stressed the importance of the tribal voice in Natural Resources protection, management, and conservation. “The tribes have an important perspective to offer in the management of our resource, not just tribal resources. They need to be looking and listening to tribes in how to manage natural resources and that’s what I plan to do with my position,” he said.

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