BROWNING, MONTANA (July 10, 2019) — The Blackfeet Nation (Amskapi Piikani) in Montana is home to one of the largest intact ecosystems in the lower forty-eight states. Yet, despite their rich agricultural diversity, the Piikani people suffer from diet-related health disparities and persistent poverty. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded its 100th grant to Montana State University and the Blackfeet Nation to develop best practices in natural resource management, climate adaptation and water governance that are consistent with the Amskapi Piikani cultural values. The Blackfeet Nation, Montana State University’s Department of Native American Studies and its Native Land Project and other Blackfeet Nation partners have provided matching support for a total project investment of $2 million.
The Blackfeet Nation’s primary industry is agriculture, with reservation lands supporting about 500,000 acres of grain and forage production and over 1,000,000 acres of grazing lands for cattle, sheep and horses. With an abundance of rich natural resources at their disposal, the Piikani people can sustainably produce, distribute and consume food grown on their lands.
From 2016 to 2019, a coalition of Piikani representatives partnered with stakeholders from federal and state agencies, universities and nonprofit organizations to develop the Blackfeet Agriculture Resource Management Plan (ARMP), which outlines a strategy for sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty and natural climate solutions. The tribe realized that achieving the objectives of the plan required innovative research and technology to enable widespread adoption.
FFAR’s grant allows Piikani and Montana State University researchers to achieve three key objectives:
- Understanding the socio-economic cost of various management decisions to help Piikani farmers and ranchers make choices that reduce costs, protect the environment and increase local food access and affordability;
- Investigating various regional food systems to establish research priorities that sustainably nourish the Piikani people; and
- Identifying how traditional Indigenous foods and foodways influence Piikani health.
“The funds that we have been granted from FFAR will help underwrite and support the Tribe’s efforts in implementing the community developed objectives for the Tribe’s ARMP,” said Loren BirdRattler, the Project Manager for the Blackfeet Tribe’s ARMP. “It will also position the Tribe to attain our own USDA Agriculture Research Station, which would be the first in Indian Country in the United States. FFAR’s generous support, along with the support of our partners, including Montana State University, provides ongoing opportunities for Blackfeet researchers to lead the way in implementing the research requirements that have been prioritized and defined under the ARMP.”
This research has the potential to improve the Piikani people’s socioeconomic, health, agricultural, environmental and governance systems. The Piikani people will use this research to govern and manage their resources; form partnerships with outside organizations; and produce environmentally sustainable, nutritious food for themselves and eventually for others.
“This project fits well with Montana State University’s mission to transform lives and communities and is at the heart of the Land Grant mission; one of its goals is to increase mutually beneficial collaborations with Tribal partners,” said Dr. Walter Fleming, Department Head and Professor of Native American Studies at Montana State University. “The Department of Native American Studies, MSU, is proud to be a part of an innovative and systemic response to the evolution of tribal food sovereignty.”
At its core, this research and the ARMP supports the Blackfeet Nation’s “triple bottom line,” which seeks to narrow health disparities, bolster sustainable economic development and support young farmers. This research directly aligns with FFAR’s core objectives to develop strategic public-private partnerships, fund innovative research and support the agriculture industry’s next generation.