USDA meets to address Wisconsin Tribal needs Submitted: 10/30/2013

Adam Fox
10 p.m. Anchor/Reporter

MOLE LAKE - Some members of Wisconsin's Tribes rely on their land for survival. They farm, fish and gather to put food on the table. But it can be difficult for tribes to find funding for large food projects.

That's why the US Department of Agriculture met with Wisconsin tribes Wednesday. Both sides hope to use it to plan programs and address tribal needs.

Oneida Nation of Wisconsin Vice Chair Greg Matson says tribes have some catch up to do with the USDA.

Matson says the USDA programs help them improve their agricultural infrastructure. Funding can be the biggest challenge.

Leslie Wheelock,USDA Office of Tribal Relations Director, says access to funding is the biggest issues for tribes.

"It will always be access to capital," Wheelock said. "Unlike states and counties, tribes don't tax their people they have a tendency to not tax their businesses because the states come in and tax the businesses and if you tax a business too much the business won't come."

The USDA formed a special advisory board in 2011 to ensure Native Americans participate in and benefit their programs.

"It's to get our tribal people up to speed to the point where they know who to go to in the USDA," Wheelock said. "The USDA has to be builder in that relationship because we know what we have to offer."

Some Wisconsin tribal farmers have benefited from programs like USDA start up loans, but some farming isn't considered a practice by the agency.

For example, the tribal wild rice harvest isn't recognized as conventional farming practice. Some Tribe members are working to change that.

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