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This month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service will conduct its first-ever Indigenous agribusiness trade mission to Canada. The trip will be led by USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Alexis M. Taylor.  

Taylor will be joined by 15 Native-owned businesses and 13 Native leaders on the trip to Vancouver, British Columbia from June 17-20. In addition to business-to-business meetings, trade mission delegates will take part in policy discussions. The idea is to bring together leaders and experts from indigenous communities in both countries, per a USDA statement.

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Attendees include tribal leaders and business representatives including: 

  • Ayittatoba, Kansas City, Mo.
  • Tocabe Foods, Denver, Colo.
  • Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Durrant, Okla.
  • Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission, Portland, Ore.
  • Fort Belknap Indian Community, Harlem, Mont.
  • Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, White Cloud, Kan.
  • Mesa Grande Business Development Corporation, an arm of the Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians – Golden Eagle Farm, Ramona, Calif.

Representatives from smaller Native businesses will also be attending, including:  

  • CatSpring Yaupon, Cat Spring, Texas
  • Herbal Lodge, Petoskey, Mich.
  • Ioway Bee Farm, White Cloud, Kan.
  • Lakota Foods, Lower Brule, S.D.
  • Morning Light Kombucha, Mayetta, Kan.
  • Native American Brewing, Inc., Cherokee, N.C.
  • Navajo Mike’s, Tempe, Ariz.
  • Red Lake, Inc., Redby, Minn.
  • Tatsey’s Ranch, Browning, Mont.
  • Yakama Nation Farms, Wapato, Wash.
  • Yopun Tea, Kennewick, Wash.
  • 1 Farm Poultry, Salina, Okla. 
  • Na Hua o ka Aina & Kauaheu Farms, Ho'olehua, Hawaii
  • Kumano I Ke Ala, West Kaua’i, Hawaii
  • Camins 2 Dreams, Lompoc, Calif. 

One Native leader who will be joining the trade trip is Buck Jones (Cayuse), a salmon marketing specialist with the Portland, Ore.-based Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Jones said he hopes the mission helps re-establish long-dormant trade relationships between U.S. Natives and Canadian First Nations. 

“Tribes have always had trade and commerce before borders. Now that there's two separate countries, there's some logistical issues,” Jones told Tribal Business News. “That’s the sort of thing we’re hoping to iron out.”

Buck Jones (Cayuse) hopes the mission will help re-establish long-dormant trade relationships between U.S. Native Americans and Canadian First Nations. (Photo: Swanson Studios)Buck Jones hopes the mission will help re-establish long-dormant trade relationships between Native American tribes in the U.S. and First Nations communities in Canada. (Photo: Swanson Studios, Courtesy Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission)

Keith Gary Cunningham (Cherokee), who heads up Sallisaw, Okla.-based 1 Poultry Farm is joining the trade trip with his sights set on expansion into the Canadian market. Like many other of the trade trip participants, Cunningham is a member of the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC), which helped him sign up for the mission.

Right now, much of his business is based on shipping to retail butcher shops in nearby states. After two years of steady growth, Cunningham is eyeing new markets that he hopes to reach via wholesalers or new marketing partners north of the border.  

“We’re hoping to expand our market regions,” Cunningham said. “Not knowing about exports, it’s a little scary, but we’re just at the beginning of our business and we’ve got all this room to grow, so I wanted to work on those wholesale sales.”

Tara Gomez (Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians), co-founder of Lompoc, Calif.-based winery Camins 2 Dreams, sees the mission as a platform for both international marketing and networking with her peers. 

“I'm excited to go and network and to learn more about the other Native-made products out there and to expand from that,” Gomez said. “This is just a platform to connect us and allow us space to find potential buyers and meet like-minded people in agribusiness.”

Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s Jones looks forward to learning how to unravel the logistical issues of international trade, but is enthused about the opportunity to network with peers and participate in training opportunities that are part of the trade mission.  

“There’s a buyer’s track and some leadership training and discussions - I’m looking forward to a combination of all of it,” Jones said. “I think there are some obstacles out there we can clear away.” 

That’s the goal, USDA’s Taylor said in a statement. She called the trade mission a “conduit” for improving trade routes between Indigenous nations in both countries. Canada is an already active trade partner for U.S. agricultural products, importing $28.2 billion worth in 2023. Recent data from the USDA Census of Agriculture suggests that American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian agricultural production contributes $8 billion annually to the U.S. domestic food economy. 

“Community is an ever-present characteristic of American agriculture, but especially for Native food and agri-systems,” Taylor said. “USDA and the Intertribal Agriculture Council share a commitment to promoting the authenticity and enriched nature of growing, harvesting and consuming indigenous foods and agricultural products. Other markets around the world also recognize this uniqueness in American agriculture and are interested in importing these high-quality products.” 

While this is the first such Indigenous trade mission under the USDA, it’s not the only one in recent years. In 2022, a group of Native-owned businesses led a trade mission to Australia, per prior Tribal Business News reporting. Delegates subsequently deemed the mission a success, resulting in new partnerships and new models for how to widen markets.

That’s what people like Jones are hoping for here. Alongside all that, maybe he can market some salmon from the Pacific Northwest to people who will appreciate the importance of the traditional food’s origins. 

“I think with the story we can share of our fishers on the Columbia River is a story that the end users want to know about,” Jones said. “A lot of people are wanting to know where the food they're eating came from and where it was grown and I think this could be a really good possibility of doing that.”

About The Author
Chez Oxendine
Staff Writer
Chez Oxendine (Lumbee-Cheraw) is a staff writer for Tribal Business News. Based in Oklahoma, he focuses on broadband, Indigenous entrepreneurs, and federal policy. His journalism has been featured in Native News Online, Fort Gibson Times, Muskogee Phoenix, Baconian Magazine, and Oklahoma Magazine, among others.
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