Federal pilot project will buy local bison meat for South Dakota tribal food aid

October 13, 2023

RAPID CITY, S.D.–A federal pilot project to put more locally raised bison on the plates of Native American people is starting with meat produced in South Dakota.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture made the announcement Thursday in Rapid City.

South Dakota Searchlight reports the department has awarded contracts to four producers — totaling nearly $500,000 — with connections to tribal reservations in the state.

A federal food assistance program will buy ground bison meat from the producers and incorporate it into existing food aid for low-income tribal members.

Heather Dawn Thompson is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. She’s also the USDA’s director of tribal relations.

“This pilot is an important step to use government procurement flexibly for the benefit of our tribal and smaller producers and their surrounding communities,” she said in a news release.

Bison are an important traditional food source for many Indigenous people. The entity undertaking the pilot project is the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

The USDA says some low-income Native American households don’t use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — because they don’t have easy access to federal offices or authorized food stores. The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations acts as a stand-in program, making shipments to 276 tribes and utilizing tribal or state agencies to enroll recipients and distribute the food.

Tom Vilsack, secretary of USDA, said the goal of the pilot program is not only introducing more locally raised bison into food offerings, but also bolstering tribal economies by buying the meat locally.

“USDA recognizes the role its purchasing power can play in providing access for smaller, local and tribal producers,” Vilsack said in the news release.

The four producers awarded contracts under the pilot project are connected to four reservations in South Dakota:

Akicita Consulting (owned by the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe), $14,079.

Brownotter Buffalo Ranch (operating on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation), $162,360.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Buffalo Authority Corporation (owned by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), $66,916.32

Dakota Pure Bison (operating on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation), $254,581.50.