Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced the establishment of a special advisory board to help USDA officials ensure Native Americans participate in and benefit from USDA programs. The board is being put in place as part of the Keepseagle settlement.

"The Council for Native American Farming and Ranching will help native governments, businesses, farmers and ranchers partner with USDA to create jobs, drive economic growth and strengthen tribal communities," Vilsack said.

The Council will work closely with the Office of Tribal Relations, Farm Service Agency and other USDA agencies to improve the success of Native farmers and ranchers who access USDA's entire portfolio of programs to build and achieve profitability in their businesses. USDA recently established a technical assistance network with the Intertribal Agriculture Council. The network works across Indian Country in 13 regional locations. USDA also recently launched a strike force initiative in southeastern states that is now expanding to western states with substantial Native American populations. These two technical assistance efforts will work together to ensure the unique challenges of Native Americans, living both on and off reservations, can be addressed. Agriculture is the second largest employer in Indian Country, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

All nominations for advisory board membership should be sent by Jan. 20, 2012 to: Thomas Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC, 20250, Attn: Council for Native American Farmers and Ranchers. Send comments to the Office of Tribal Relations, 500A Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington D.C., 20250.

Establishing the board is just one of the recent steps USDA has taken and will take to assist Native Americans. USDA's Rural Housing Service will soon send a notice to all Rural Development offices reminding them that direct home loan borrowers on Native lands can consider AMERIND Corporation for their insurance needs. AMERIND is a tribal-owned organization that acts as a risk management pool for insurance coverage of homes and other private and community structures on Native lands. The notice does not endorse AMERIND over other insurers, but provides another option for borrowers on Native lands to meeting the insurance requirements of the program. USDA is also considering regulatory changes to expand the types of USDA projects that AMERIND can insure.