Agriculture is a key component of Native peoples’ culture and heritage. Today, more and more Tribal nations are looking to establish and expand access to global markets. For example, Minnesota’s Red Lake, Inc. – wholly-owned by the Red Lake Nation – has begun to join USDA’s agribusiness trade missions (ATM), seeking to establish new partnerships around the world.

Twenty years ago, the Red Lake Nation began exporting cultivated wild rice and value-added rice products from their tribal members with the Red Lake Nation Foods brand. Fun fact: wild rice is actually the seeds of wetlands grass! Red Lake, Inc.’s wild rice is cultivated and grown in the tribal land’s paddy fields. In the past three years, it has grown its farms to more than 1,000 acres with plans for annual growth. 

Red Lake, Inc. has had great success exporting and growing its markets overseas with the help of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and the programs and services it provides to U.S. exporters, cooperators, and state and regional trade groups. With FAS assistance, each ATM has resulted in sales for Red Lake, Inc. “It’s been exciting to work with the Intertribal Agriculture Council (our cooperator) and FAS to do export market exploration,” said Red Lake, Inc. Chief Development Officer, Jaycob Robinson. “It’s given us a lot of big wins!” 

Since Red Lake, Inc. began ramping up its efforts to increase exports and diversify markets, the benefits have rippled throughout the tribal community by providing more jobs and more business opportunities to tribal members. For example, Red Lake, Inc. purchases walleye caught by local fishermen, which helps provide income to tribal members and stimulates the Nation’s local economy. 

Much of Red Lake, Inc.’s work is made possible because of the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC). The Red Lake Nation was a founding member when the IAC was established in 1987. The IAC promotes the Indian-use of Indian resources for the benefit of Indian people. In that spirit, Red Lake, Inc. works with the American Indian Foods Program which uses FAS Market Access Program funds. “This component of the IAC helps with international travel for tribal food producers to develop and grow export markets, as well as attend USDA agribusiness trade missions,” said Robinson. Additionally, the IAC often participates in USDA-sponsored trade shows and missions to serve as a representative for foods and agricultural products produced and sold by its tribal members. 

The IAC and USDA share many of the same goals for sustainable food systems and climate-smart agriculture. For Native Americans, food sovereignty is cultural to their traditional, indigenous methods of land stewardship. Red Lake, Inc. also prioritizes these agriculture and food sustainability efforts. “The Red Lake Nation Fishery is the only walleye fishery in the world that has a best choice sustainability rating,” said Robinson. Red Lake, Inc. is also beginning to implement sustainable and carbon-neutral or carbon-negative agricultural practices. 

Throughout the month of November, we celebrate the many accomplishes and invaluable contributions of Native peoples and Tribal nations. Over the years, USDA and the IAC have developed a strong partnership while working together to provide an array of technical assistance services, including land access technical support, agriculture production, agriculture credit, rural development to underserved farmers, and a myriad of other efforts.

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