University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's "People of the Land," a self-paced, eight-chapter curriculum examining the historical, social and economic attributes of Indian reservations within a four-state region of the West, has been named a top winner in the National Association of County Agricultural Agents' Communications Awards Program.
The 2009 publication by Extension educators Staci Emm of Mineral County and Loretta Singletary of Lyon County is designed to help agricultural and natural resource professionals work more effectively with American Indian farmers and ranchers in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
The researchers' curriculum is the result of a three-year quality-of-life assessment of American Indians and the U. S. Department of Agriculture professionals who work with them. Government officials said they have trouble helping Indian farmers and ranchers develop sustainable agriculture and natural resource management skills on reservation land. Meanwhile, tribal leaders expressed their desire to strengthen agriculture on Indian lands.
The Cooperative Extension study by Emm and Singletary identified a "knowledge gap" that indicated the need to improve understanding and appreciation of individual tribal histories and cultures in order to work more effectively with tribes. "People of the Land" provides the training to close that gap.
"American Indian farmers and ranchers contribute a great deal economically to rural reservations," Emm said, "and even though federal programs are designed to help increase the profitability of farms and ranches, Indian land tenure can make it difficult to implement and encourage sustainable agriculture programs on reservation lands. 'People of the Land' is an effort to improve that situation."
Singletary called American Indian land tenure issues "profoundly complex," and said those issues affect the sustainability of both agricultural operations and natural resource management efforts on reservations.
"Our curriculum seeks to explain these issues and how they evolved over time,” she said. “Tackling this subject was challenging, but if we can increase the awareness and understanding of the obstacles Indian landowners face in managing their resource base, perhaps we can effect a lasting program impact.”
Cooperative Extension Dean and Director Karen Hinton praised Emm and Singletary for taking on a difficult job.
"This is an example of how our faculty use science-based research to help people," she said. "'People of the Land shows how we try to bring real solutions to real people to improve the economy and people's lives."
Singletary and Emm have already taught the curriculum, published last year, to hundreds of tribal agriculture producers and land managers within the four-state region. Program impact measures showed that agency professionals working on Indian reservations came away with increased knowledge of key issues, including: American Indian culture; federal Indian policy; issues surrounding Indian land tenure, including checkerboard and fractionated lands on American Indian reservations; Indian agriculture irrigation projects; and Indian governance.
Demand for the 166-page textbook has been unexpectedly high. The book is already in its second printing, and Emm and Singletary – at the request of county officials and state educators – are working on two separate publications – one focused specifically on Nevada tribes and another written for Nevada students.