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In late 2020, with support from First Nations’ Keepseagle Endowment and funding from the Ronald W. Naito Foundation, First Nations began the Forging Last-Mile Protein Supply Chain in Indian Country pilot project. Through this project, First Nations partnered with six tribal grantees to strengthen their protein supply chains. Using the following strategies, these grantees sought to identify and capitalize on existing assets that could increase tribal ownership of protein supply chains and thus overall tribal food sovereignty:
- Identify ways to increase tribal control of food supply through supporting research on the viability of new and/or expanded meat-processing facilities and the development of value-added products.
- Increase the capacity of existing Native processors to meet the needs of their communities through purchasing equipment to process, store, and market locally-produced meat and value-added products.
- Strengthen tribal workforces and increase economic opportunities by investing in certifications and butchering programs, and increasing understanding of related food codes and regulations.
- Increase the viability of smaller farms and ranches through connecting Native producers in the local protein supply chain.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have exposed the vulnerabilities in tribal food chains, this project and the work of these six grantees provide a better understanding of how to build more resilient and self-reliant meat supply chains in Native communities.