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(Many Paths)
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Cherokee Students Participate In Law Agriculture Summit
by Brittney Bennett - Cherokee Phoenix Intern
Students at the second annual Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Summer Leadership Summit take a group shot in front of the Native American “Courage to Lead” statue at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Nine Cherokee students participated in the summit learning how to overcome food and agriculture challenges facing Indian Country. (courtesy photo)

– The next generation of tribal and agricultural leaders will feature nine Cherokee youths after their participation in the second annual Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Summer Leadership Summit.

The University of Arkansas School of Law held the summit July 19-28, hosting 79 youths and 15 student leaders representing 47 tribes across the country.

The summit is part of the school’s Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, which has goals such as increasing student enrollment in land grant universities and creating new education programs in food and agriculture.

The summit mixed classroom time and practical learning to prepare students for what they may face in the future of food and agriculture in Indian Country.

“A lot of challenges that come to land is definitely finding the opportunity,” Odessa Oldham, summit camp director, said. “A lot of individuals don’t realize there’s a lot of opportunity there. They don’t know how to access that land. Some of the challenges are not being educated on where to go find those opportunities to get involved with that. Another big problem is Native Americans not being able to voice what they want and when they want it.”

Summit officials also said the average age of Native American farmers is rising.

Of all Native American producers in the country only 9.5 percent are under the age of 35, said Erin Shirl, summit program director, who also tracks U.S. Census data for the law school.

“There are problems that I never even would have thought about if I wouldn’t have came to this summit and had someone stand in front of me and tell me we have problems that have to be fixed, and it’s only us youth that can fix them,” student Jacey Phillips, a Cherokee Nation citizen, said. “We have a giant age gap between our farmers, and if we don’t get that age gap filled we won’t be able to feed ourselves.”

The summit works to combat these issues by inspiring and educating students into food and agriculture careers.

“Our topics here range from business planning to market identification and planning, food sovereignty assessments, the history of Indian Country of Food and Agriculture,” Janie Hipp, director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, said. “And because we are at a law school, we talked about land tenure, Indian land title and regulation of Indian agriculture.”

The summit covered all costs such as food, lodging, instructional materials and travel for students, including Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizen and North Carolina resident Anthony Toineeta.

“I was interested in it because I want to study agriculture, agribusiness in college,” he said. “I hope to take what I’ve learned here back to my tribe and put it to use and spread the word about this and get more people involved.”

While on campus, students got an inside look at greenhouses, a cow and calf operation and food science labs that assist local food and agricultural entrepreneurs.

Off campus, students went on field trips to Bedre Chocolate in Ada, Oklahoma; a Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Bentonville; and the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market.

“This is a very important experience for Native youth,” Wade Bergman, a student and CN citizen, said. “It teaches us that we are the future. We can’t just rely on everyone that’s older than us to teach us. We have to find out ourselves.”

Summit activities also included placing students into groups that were given the week to create fictional companies based around agricultural products.

“The assignment was for them to take that food assignment and build a mission, vision, goals for what they were going to do, a business plan, a marketing plan and then to work among the groups to see what they could do intertribally to support each other in food,” Hipp said.

Hipp said the summit is already seeing fruits of its labor, with students from 2014 going back to their communities and creating community gardens, helping families draft business plans and having conversations with tribal leaders about creating youth councils.

The expectations this year are just as high for the new crop of students.

“We really don’t know what they’re going to come away with and implement,” Hipp said. “All we know is if we see what we saw last year, it will be amazing and we’re very excited. We’re going to keep in contact with the all students like we did last year and keep building their relationships with each other and their support systems.”

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