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MSU Part Of Indigenous Food Sovereignty Project

An Indigenous-led education and research program at Montana State University and its partner institution have been awarded a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a project to support Indigenous food sovereignty.

MSU’s Buffalo Nations Food System Initiative, in collaboration with Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in New Town, North Dakota, received the grant from the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, or NIFA. The grant is part of a NIFA program called From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals.

The grant will support a project, “Calling People Back to the Land – Indigenous Traditional Knowledge Network and Curriculum for the Next Generation of Indigenous Food Sovereignty Workforce,” that will develop initiatives focused on Indigenous food systems and buffalo management, or caretaking, while facilitating an exchange program in both animal husbandry and horticulture, in which Indigenous farmers and ranchers will spend time in one another’s homelands to observe Indigenous land practices. This program includes national and international Indigenous knowledge exchanges. MSU College of Education, Health and Human Development faculty members Jill Falcon Ramaker and Roland Ebel will co-lead the MSU side of the work.

The grant will support the work of one undergraduate and two MSU graduate students in most years of the grant and provide scholarships for tribal college instructors to participate in an MSU initiative focused on Indigenous food systems. The grant will also fund tribal college student enrollment in a new Indigenous food systems certificate at Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College.

Falcon Ramaker, assistant professor in the Department of Food Systems, Nutrition and Kinesiology and director of Buffalo Nations Food System Initiative at MSU, said food sovereignty is among the highest priorities of the Native nations of this region, whose relationship with buffalo has been essential to the well-being of the land and the people.

“Through this work we are building back a Native knowledge network in the Northern Plains and Rockies that supported the health of the land and people for millennia,” Ramaker said.

“Food sovereignty is a concern of Indigenous communities globally, and the traditional ecological knowledge of many of these communities has been excluded from mainstream food systems,” said Ebel, assistant research professor in the Department of Food Systems, Nutrition and Kinesiology. “However, the holistic approach of Indigenous cultures has the potential to sustainably enhance 21st century food systems.”

Ramaker noted that the grant-funded work will examine ways to potentially provide educational opportunities for non-traditional Indigenous students and working professionals that can accommodate varied job schedules or dependent care.

Ramaker also said it’s noteworthy that the NIFA funding supports a partnership between two land-grant institutions working to protect the well-being of Native lands and peoples.

Additional collaborators on the grant are Melissa Nelson, professor at the Arizona State University School of Sustainability, College of Global Futures; Joseph Gazing Wolf, buffalo rancher and associate director of the 40,000-acre Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve on Osage Nation in Oklahoma; and, Rick Hall, ecological education consultant at Prairie Rose Associates.

For more information about Buffalo Nations Food System Initiative at MSU, visit ehhd/BNFSI.html or contact Falcon Ramaker at jillfalcon.

For more information about Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College and its programs, visit or contact Ruth Plenty Sweetgrass-She Kills at

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