Officials from Montana State University including Walter Fleming, center in black vest, director of the Department of Native American Studies, met with elders of the Blackfeet Nation and representatives from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) during ceremonies held at the 2019 North American Indian Days. FFAR announced a $1 million grant to the tribe for a variety of projects that will support sustainable agriculture for the Piikani people. MSU support and services will be part of a $1 million match for the grant for a total of $2 million.

A partnership between Montana State University’s Department of Native American Studies and the Blackfeet Nation received a grant valued at $2 million to support sustainable agriculture for the Piikani people.

The grant, awarded by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), supports projects identified by the Blackfeet Nation as important to its sustainable agriculture efforts. FFAR announced the award during North American Indian Days in Browning.

Loren BirdRattler, director of the Blackfeet Nation’s Agriculture Resource Management Plan (ARMP); Kimberly Paul, director of Piikani Lodge Health Institute; Christopher Carter, regional planner and filmmaker at Nunataq Inc.; and Kristin Ruppel, MSU professor of Native American studies in the College of Letters and Science and director of MSU’s Native Land Project, are co-principal investigators of the grant.

Besides Ruppel, MSU personnel currently working with the project include Jill Falcon Mackin, doctoral student in history; Micaela Young, doctoral student in American Studies; Shelian Lame Bull, MSU McNair Scholar and senior in political science; Rachel Tang, MSU graduate and academic services coordinator for Native American Studies; and Kate Fuller, assistant professor and specialist with MSU Extension Economics.

FFAR funds “will help underwrite and support the tribe’s efforts in implementing the community developed objectives for the tribe’s ARMP,” BirdRattler said. The Blackfeet ARMP outlines a strategy for sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty and natural climate solutions that are consistent with Amskapi Piikani cultural values. BirdRattler said the grant will also position the tribe to attain its own USDA Agricultural Research Station, the first established on reservation land anywhere in the U.S.

“FFAR’s generous support, along with the support of our partners, provides ongoing opportunities for Blackfeet scientific teams to lead the way in implementing research that has been prioritized and defined under the ARMP,” BirdRattler said.

FFAR is providing $1 million to be matched with services and support by the university, the tribe and its other partners.

At MSU, the grant will support the Native Land Project’s efforts with Blackfeet research partners. Among other things, the Native Land Project is working with Native landowners and federal experts to develop a series of guides to help landowners make decisions around fractionated land. “Fractionation” occurs when land is inherited by increasing numbers of co-owners, creating challenges for agricultural production, according to Ruppel.

The grant also supports Paul and a team of Blackfeet researchers who are conducting scientific research about how a traditional indigenous diet influences the health of Piikani people. Paul holds a doctorate in biomedical science and public and community health from the University of Montana.

Additionally, the research partnership seeks to ensure that Blackfeet priorities are defined and respected in the research and development of their food systems. While the Blackfeet Reservation – which includes a half-million acres of grain and forage production and more than a million acres of grazing lands for cattle, sheep and horses – is one of the largest intact ecosystems in the lower 48 states, Piikani people suffer from a critically high incidence of diet-related health disparities and persistent poverty, BirdRattler said.

Walter Fleming, head of the MSU Department of Native American Studies, said the grant supports work aligned with MSU’s land-grant mission through the MSU Native Land Project, which will help transform lives and communities in Montana and develop mutually beneficial collaborations with tribal partners.

“MSU is proud to be part of an innovative and systemic response to the evolution of tribal food sovereignty,” Fleming said.

Sally Rockey, FFAR’s executive director, said the grant is “especially significant because it highlights FFAR’s core objectives, and it marks FFAR’s 100th grant.” Rockey recently released a statement about the grant. FFAR is a nonprofit established by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill that builds partnerships and supports research ad-dressing today’s food and agriculture challenges.

To learn more about MSU’s Native Land Project, go to: http://www.mont ana.edu/nativeland/. To learn more about FFAR, go to https://foundation far.org/. To learn more about Piikani Lodge Health Institute, go to https://piikanilodgeinstitute.org/. And, to learn more about the Blackfeet ARMP, go to http://www.black feetarmp.com/.

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