School of Law Receives Gifts Aimed at Improving Native American Health

l-r: Stacy L. Leeds, dean of the School of Law); Lori K. Watso, secretary/treasurer of Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; Janie Hipp, director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative.
Courtesy of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community

l-r: Stacy L. Leeds, dean of the School of Law); Lori K. Watso, secretary/treasurer of Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; Janie Hipp, director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law has received two landmark gifts, one of $250,000 from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and a second of $50,000 from MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative will begin work on the legal foundation in food and agriculture law as a first step to improving health in Indian Country. The three-year project will develop model legal codes that can be tailored and adopted by tribes, thus efficiently establishing a body of law and policies to govern food production and distribution by the indigenous or native sovereign governments. The collaborative effort is an extension of Shakopee Community’s $5 million Seeds of Native Health commitment to improve the health of all Native Americans and MAZON’s Rural and Remote initiative. 

Most Native American tribes have not as yet asserted their own inherent jurisdiction over food production, handling and inspection, according to Janie Hipp, director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative. In order to overcome roadblocks to tribal nations' ability to encourage their own agricultural production and determine their people's nutritional health, tribal governments will need to create robust policies, she said. To facilitate this improved governance and overcome roadblocks to health and improved food security, the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the Arkansas School of Law will develop a long-needed, comprehensive set of model food and agriculture codes that can be customized and adopted by tribal governments.

“Food and agriculture codes will be an invaluable tool for tribal leaders as they advance health and wellness initiatives,” said Stacy L. Leeds, dean of the School of Law. “We are proud to partner with the SMSC and MAZON, particularly in ways that will provide opportunities for our students to work on cutting-edge legal issues.” Leeds is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the country’s only Native American law school dean. 

Native Americans suffer from obesity, diabetes and other nutritionally related health problems at a rate much higher than the general population. Native Americans are, for example, 1.6 times more likely to become obese than are Caucasians according to the Seeds of Native Health initiative and more than twice as likely to suffer from diabetes. These and other chronic health problems are attributable to the loss of traditional food sources, a history of limited access to nutritious food, and a lack of control over food production and distribution processes. 

“Food sovereignty is a central component to build a culture of dietary health for Native Americans,” said Charlie Vig, chair of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. “We are thrilled by this opportunity to work with the University of Arkansas and MAZON to empower Native nations to reclaim their own food policies.”

“This unprecedented coalition is a meaningful and innovative approach to a systemic problem that should be a national outrage,” said Abby J. Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON. “MAZON is proud to bring its 30 years of anti-hunger advocacy experience to this remarkable project and to support the SMSC’s Seeds of Native Health Campaign and the University of Arkansas create a long overdue legal framework which will make a real difference in the response to hunger among tribal nations.”

The project will advance under the leadership of Hipp, who is widely recognized as a foremost expert in the field of Native American agricultural law. A citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Hipp is a former U.S. Department of Agriculture senior adviser for tribal relations and founder of the USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations. She also served as a National Program Leader at the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture and served two terms on the USDA Secretary’s Advisory Committee for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers. Hipp earned a Master of Laws from the University of Arkansas program in 1996. “Janie is a prime example how our LL.M. degree program positions graduates to advance to the top of their field,” said Leeds.

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative was created at the University of Arkansas School of Law in 2013 to embark on innovative projects that will impact positive change in Indian Country’s food and agriculture arena. The Law School has long been nationally and internationally recognized for its agriculture and food law prominence thanks to its Master of Laws program in agriculture and food law, the first in the country and now in its 35th year.

“Each year in the LL.M. program in Agricultural and Food Law, we prepare attorneys to deal with the complex legal issues that arise in our food system,” said Susan Schneider, the Enfield Professor of Law and LL.M. program director.  “The model food code project will provide our LL.M. candidates with hands-on experience in this ground-breaking work. We are very proud of the work of the Indigenous Initiative and grateful for the opportunities it creates for our students.”  

About the University of Arkansas School of Law LL.M. Program    

The University of Arkansas School of Law offers the first and oldest legal degree in agricultural and food law in the United States. Courses for the Master of Laws program are taught by nationally recognized scholars and practitioners through a mix of University of Arkansas School of Law professors, visiting professors, and special guests who deliver topical presentations. Graduates of the program are among the leaders of today’s agricultural law and food law communities, working in private practice, government, industry, public policy and academia. The program offers legal instruction from the perspective of the farmer, the processor, the retailer and the consumer. In addition to a traditional classroom setting, the program offers a fully integrated distance degree program with options for live videoconferencing, classroom capture, and innovative hybrid learning opportunities.

About the School of Law: The University of Arkansas School of Law has climbed 47 spots in the U.S. News and World Report ranking of law schools in seven years, to its peak in 2014 of 33rd best public law school, and 61st overall. It is currently ranked 41st among public law schools. It is ranked as one of the best value law schools by National Jurist magazine and prepares students for success at an equitable price. Located in the heart of the beautiful University of Arkansas campus, the law school offers challenging courses taught by nationally recognized faculty, unique service opportunities, and a close-knit community that puts students first.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.


Janie Hipp, Director, Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative
University of Arkansas School of Law

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