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Haskell Indian Nations University said it plans to launch an agriculture business degree program as part of a new partnership with the Bureau of Indian Education and the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF).  

The program, announced by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s Annual Legislative Summit this week, will be housed in Haskell’s business school. The curriculum will cover topics such as lending operations, risk management, regulatory compliance, and customer service. 

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The goal is to “encompass fundamental lending principles that will ultimately improve the relationships Native farmers and ranchers have with their financial institutions,” per a statement released by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Indian Country’s relationship with lending programs remains a chronic issue facing Native producers. In fact, it was the landmark Keepseagle v. Vilsack case, in which the Department of Agriculture’s lending programs were found to discriminate against Native farmers, that led to the creation of Haskell’s partner in the new program, NAAF. 

Supporting a program that bridges the considerable gap between Native producers and credit access builds on recent work with Native Community Development Financial Institutions and the creation of Native Agriculture Financial Services, an Other Financing Institution within the Farm Credit System, NAAF CEO Toni Stanger-McLaughlin said in a statement.

“Through this educational program, the goal is to empower individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the unique lending landscape of Indian Country and address the importance of improving capital access for Native producers,” Stanger-McLaughlin said. “At NAAF, we are proud to support educational entities like Haskell as the stewards of education in our tribal communities and hope the certificate programs will become a useful tool in educating both students and non-students that serve their tribal communities.”

Students will be able to pursue degrees in both agriculture and finance. The program will strive to make sure graduates possess a “deep understanding” of Native-specific and producer-specific lending processes, per the BIA statement. 

Haskell University President Francis Arpan said the school looked forward to working with its partners to advance agricultural career opportunities available Native students.

“Through this grant, we hope to expand valuable resources to Native communities in the areas of agribusiness and beyond,” Arpan said in a statement. 

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