Thursday, January 10, 2013

Indigenous Food & Agriculture Initiative at University of Arkansas

The University of Arkansas School of Law will launch the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative on Tuesday, Jan. 15. It will be the nation’s first law school initiative focusing on tribal food systems, agriculture and community sustainability.

The initiative will draw on the nationally recognized expertise of LL.M. Alumna Janie Simms Hipp, who leaves her post as the senior adviser for tribal relations to USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack and on that of Stacy Leeds, currently the only Native American law school dean in the country. Janie will serve as director of the initiative and as visiting professor of law.

“The National Congress of American Indians applauds the creation of this new initiative,” said Jefferson Keel, president of the organization, which is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native tribal government organization in the United States. “Ms. Hipp accomplished many important goals during her time as senior adviser at USDA, and Dean Leeds is a leader in tribal governance and land issues. The NCAI leadership has long recognized that growing and sustaining food and ag businesses is essential to stabilizing our communities, and this initiative is poised to provide leadership in this important area.”

Among its strategic plans, the initiative will provide educational and technical assistance to tribal governments, private entities and businesses engaging or entering the food sector. Other areas of research, service and education will include agriculture, health and nutrition law and policy development, professional training of government and corporate leaders, and the formation of pipeline programs to engage students at the community level and foster them through four-year higher education institutions, law and graduate opportunities.

“I am honored and thrilled to return to my alma mater and to Northwest Arkansas to assist the dean, the School of Law and the University of Arkansas in this important endeavor,” said Hipp, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. “The initiative we are embarking upon will support tribal governments and rural communities throughout our region and the nation in making investments in our nation’s food and energy security. When indigenous communities use their natural resources to create jobs and strengthen local communities, we all benefit.”

The Arkansas Newswire press release noted that Janie is "an attorney and graduate of the School of Law’s internationally renowned master of laws program in Agricultural and Food Law, the nation’s only advanced law degree program in agricultural and food law. She is the founder of the USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations in the Office of the Secretary and served two terms on the USDA Secretary’s Advisory Committee for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers. She also served on two delegations to the United Nations in the areas of women’s issues and indigenous issues."

“The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative is very much in line with the University of Arkansas’s historic commitments to diverse communities and with our mission as a land grant institution,” said Sharon Gaber, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Leeds is one of five commissioners of the Secretarial Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform, established by Secretary Ken Salazar of the U.S. Department of Interior. The commission was created to conduct a comprehensive two year evaluation of the department’s management and administration of nearly $4 billion in American Indian trust assets and to offer recommendations on improvements in the future. She will be honored in February with the American Bar Association’s Spirit of Excellence Award for her contributions to enhancing diversity in the legal profession.

“This interdisciplinary initiative plays to the strengths of the university and the law school,” said Leeds, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. “It will further enrich our highly acclaimed LL.M. program in Agricultural and Food Law, which has produced many of our nation’s most well-respected agriculture law and policy leaders, including Janie Hipp.”

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