By Tim Kalinowski
For J.R. Weasel Fat, program co-ordinator for the Indigenous Agriculture Program at Red Crow Community College, agriculture represents a more economically independent future for the Blood Tribe and Kainai Nation, but also an opportunity to do things differently than other types of industrial agriculture prevalent on the prairies today.
“We have a different viewpoint in our approach to land use,” he explains. “We look at it like: Yes, it supports our life, but do we push it as hard as intensive agriculture does? Do we exploit animals? Use intensive cropping systems?
“We are of the mind we are borrowing the land from our children and we want it to work for now, and future generations. That is part of the Nitsitapii point of view, the traditional Blackfoot way of living.”
Weasel Fat says agriculture has always been an under-represented career path for Indigenous peoples in southern Alberta.
“The current scenario sees a lot of non-native farmers and ranchers on the reserve,” he states. “I want to see this cohort (of Red Crow agriculture students) coming back and farming. The success of our students is paramount, because if we don’t get the leaders to bring the next generation in the momentum gets lost.
“We want to ramp it up and get back out there and see all Native farmers on the Blood Tribe farming and ranching for their own well-being and their own good in their home community.”
Weasel Fat explains what Red Crow Community College does differently than other agricultural programs at colleges in Alberta to ensure the success of its students going forward.
“We do it in a manner which is conducive to our cultural retention, and serves as self-identity and self-awareness within the student,” Weasel Fat explains. “We are trying to make things go full circle. The Nitsitapii way is going to make more doors open for us; whereas in traditional educational institutions Indigenous students get intimidated by the (Western) academic focus, and it is hard being away from home.
“So we try to get that cultural balance and foundation under our students, and having an introductory level agriculture program infused with our culture— things like Elder sharing in the classroom— and we think it’s going to go a long ways.”
Weasel Fat hopes to see more in the Blood Tribe and other Indigenous people enter into agriculture as a way of life and as a means to their ultimate economic independence. And he thinks his students at the college are letting that message sink in.
“We have some students talking about forming a co-operative ranch program where they can pool the resources, and have some input from the tribe, and borrow equipment within their co-operative,” Weasel Fat says proudly. “They can also have knowledge-sharing and seek financing for cattle and other agricultural inputs.
“Farming is a very honest lifestyle,” he adds. “What you put in, you get out. It is a proud way; just as we are as Nitsitapii.”