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Guest Opinion. Tribal nations across America are filled with innovative, creative, hardworking people who lift up our state’s culture and economies. 

Unfortunately, we have not always provided tribes and tribal communities with access to the same opportunities that all Americans deserve. Despite these limitations, Tribes across the country are anchor points for their communities and their neighbors, and in some states, Tribes have grown to be the largest employer in their county.  

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We recognize our unique Constitutional relationship with Tribes that has spanned centuries. We also recognize that tribal communities are deeply rooted in and committed to these lands we share. They were here before and will be here after. They will be stewards of our land and economies for generations to come. Tribes are good investments for the long-term economic stability for our great state. That’s why we at USDA Rural Development invest in tribes. 

I’ve seen firsthand what Tribes are doing to uplift their communities and the entire country. We are proud to support them in these efforts, and we’ve been hard at work over the last few years, strengthening our partnerships with local tribes such as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Through these partnerships, we are working together to enhance health care access, improve schools, strengthen tribal food systems and so much more. 

Here are just a few examples of what we’ve been doing to support tribes in Mississippi:

Removing Barriers

Many tribes have experienced ongoing economic and community development challenges in their communities. Unfortunately, we have not always provided tribes and tribal communities with access to the same opportunities that all Americans have had and deserve. Underinvestment has been compounded by tribes not having the same taxing opportunities as states and counties to generate revenue to fund tribal government services. One such barrier is dependable water and wastewater capacity, and we have been working hard to remove these barriers. 

Here in Mississippi, we recently invested $19 million through our Water and Wastewater Loan and Grant program to address water concerns. Funds were used to construct: a new water treatment plant with two treatment trains to facilitate maintenance and continuous operation; two new wells with flow meters, and a 500,000-gallon elevated storage tank, which will facilitate supply and pressure maintenance throughout the system in the event of line breaks. This includes service to the largest user in the system, the Geyser Falls Water Park. These improvements will not only give residents access to safe drinking water and wastewater service, but also ensure reliable service to a major tourist attraction and additional source of revenue for the tribe.

For more information on what USDA has been doing to break down tribal barriers, check out this report

Tribal Colleges, Students and Youth 

Quality education and training opportunities at tribal colleges are essential to the future of tribes and our rural economies across Mississippi and the success of generations to come. At USDA, we are committed to supporting and partnering with tribal youth organizations and institutions of higher education to ensure young people in tribal communities have every opportunity to succeed. 

Here in Mississippi, the Mississippi Coding Academies have partnered with Coahoma Community College and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to fund the expansion of the "TechShare" program, which is a distance-based, remote learning program to teach adult learners in software coding, software/cyber security, and professional development. The focus will be educating participants on software development skills as well as basic skills such as: written and oral communication, resume construction, interviewing skills, and professional networking. Participants will also be taught basic computer science concepts, front end graphical user interface, web, database design, design patterns, and back-end computer programming. This was made possible by a $215,000 investment through our Rural Business and Development Grant.

To see even more of what we’ve been doing with tribal colleges, youth and students, here is a USDA progress report

Food Sovereignty

Tribes have made clear they want to restore food independence for themselves and their neighbors. USDA supports these food sovereignty goals by promoting Indian Country food and agriculture markets and Indigenous health through foods tailored to American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) traditional diets and customs. That’s why we’re partnering with tribes and tribal-serving organizations on projects to reimagine federal food and agriculture programs from an Indigenous and sustainable perspective and inform future USDA programs and policies. 

One such program in Mississippi is the Healthy Foods Financing Initiative Grants, which USDA recently used to invest $5.7 million with The Reinvestment Fund, who has partnered with The Delta Healthy Food Financing Partnership. This partnership will establish the Delta Healthy Food Financing Initiative, whose mission is to build a stronger, more equitable and resilient food system in the Delta region of the U.S and support the vitality of food retailers, food enterprises, and underserved communities in the region through increased access to capital. This Rural Development investment will be used to provide grants to partnerships and qualified lenders to improve access to healthy food in underserved areas, which will prove beneficial for all Mississippians.

For more information on what USDA has been doing to strengthen food sovereignty on tribal lands, check out our progress report.

USDA Rural Development is proud to partner with tribal nations and communities in rural Mississippi and we will continue this important work because it’s our mission. In fact, USDA as a whole is working hard to support people in tribal nations throughout the country and here are some of our greatest accomplishments. We will continue supporting tribal communities as a critical component of our mission to help the people of rural America thrive. 
If you would like more information on how you can partner with USDA Rural Development in your community, please go to www.rd.usda.gov

Dr. Trina N. George, State Director for USDA Rural Development, in Mississippi.

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