USDA announces first-ever grants for Indigenous meat processing

April 21, 2023

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday it would – for the first time – offer grants for harvesting, processing and storing Indigenous meats such as bison, reindeer, moose, elk and salmon, offering a boost to tribes working to improve food sovereignty.

By Stewart Huntington

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The change will expand USDA funding, which had been available only for meats the department regulates, such as beef, pork or chicken.

“We are thrilled that we’re going to invest in Indigenous animal processing,” said Heather Dawn Thompson, the USDA’s director of the Office of Tribal Relations. “We have heard loud and clear in our consultations with tribal governments that they want to make sure that they have proteins that are based on Indigenous animals for their communities. This is the first time that our funds are going to be available for those animals. We’re changing the course of history together.”

The department’s Indigenous Animals Harvesting and Meat Processing Grant Program will provide up to $50 million to improve tribal nations’ food and agricultural supply chain resiliency by developing and expanding infrastructure related to meat from Indigenous animals. The program will fund projects that focus on expanding local capacity for the harvesting, processing, manufacturing, storing, transporting, wholesaling, or distribution of indigenous meats.

“USDA is proud to offer this investment in tribal nations’ food chain resiliency as a part of USDA’s broader efforts to restore Indigenous food ways,” USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small said in a statement. “By expanding and enhancing local processing capacity, these projects will provide culturally appropriate food and community food security to tribal communities.”

Eligible applicants are tribes as well as wholly-owned arms and instrumentalities, and joint or multi-tribal government entities. There is no maximum dollar figure for a grant application nor a minimum. Additionally, there are no matching fund requirements. The deadline for applications is July 19.

The new grants announced Wednesday are part of USDA’s Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative, which promotes traditional food ways, Indian Country food and agriculture markets, and Indigenous health through foods tailored to American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) dietary needs.

The USDA is partnering with tribal-serving organizations on the projects to reimagine federal food and agriculture programs from an Indigenous perspective and inform future USDA programs and policies, officials said. The USDA Food Sovereignty Initiative was announced in 2021.

“USDA is committed to empowering tribal self-determination and bringing Indigenous perspectives into agriculture, food, and nutrition,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

This story originally appeared in Indian Country Today and is republished here with permission.

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