The Quapaw Tribe is considered a national leader in agriculture and their Ag enterprises and the leader's enthusiasm and commitment are the reasons Berrey was asked to speak at the prestigious event.
WASHINGTON – The Quapaw Tribe's development and accomplishments in agricultural endeavors have gained national notoriety.
John Berrey, Chairman of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, served as the invited keynote speaker at the United States Department of Agriculture's 2017 American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage Month in Washington, DC last Wednesday.
The Quapaw Tribe has made innovative and impactful investments in agriculture with the Quapaw Cattle Company, Quapaw Processing Plant, Quapaw Honey, O-Gah-Pah Coffee, and O-Gah-Pah Bison programs and businesses - and the Ag world has taken notice.
The Quapaw Tribe is considered a national leader in agriculture and their Ag enterprises and the leader’s enthusiasm and commitment are the reasons Berrey was asked to speak at the prestigious event.
“It’s exciting for me. I like talking to people about it,” he said. “We’re really trying to get tribes around the country to create a new cooperative that adopts tribes that maybe they have the land, but they need help to get started.”
Most of the Quapaw Tribe's agricultural programs were the first, or are the only programs of their kind in Indian Country.
In partnership with multiple federal agencies and state leaders, the Quapaw Tribe is also engaged in environmental cleanup of the Tar Creek Superfund Site.
“The challenges are always capital, that’s tough for tribes and non-tribal entities, and you really have to have the support of people who see the vision, and we have all that,” Berrey said. “We have a very solid tribal government. We have responsibilities to our people, and to the community. You know when we think of ourselves; we don’t just think of the Quapaw Tribe, we think of Ottawa County of Oklahoma, and we think of Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas. We’re concerned, and we want to be part of uplifting everyone.”
The recent grand opening of the Quapaw Processing Plant brought palpable excitement to the local and state agricultural community, and economy and the Ag world has taken notice. The recent invitation to speak at a national gathering is another validation and testament to the interest shown in the Tribe’s programs.
“It was an honor for me and the tribe. What’s interesting is the Secretary sought me out. He sent me a letter and said I want to meet you, I’ve heard about you,” Berrey said
After the event, Berrey got to spend substantial time with the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in his office in Washington DC.
“He is just my kind of guy. He is very friendly, very open. You know he and I are a lot alike, he wants to help feed people and grow an Ag economy,” Berrey said.
Berrey is rightfully proud of the accomplishments of the 4,800 member Quapaw Tribe and the recognition of the importance of the Tribe’s farming and ranching and other endeavors, which has created $700 million in Wall Street revenues.
“After next year it will be nearly a billion,” Berrey said.
The Tribe’s casino ventures, Downstream Casino and the Quapaw Casino helped fund other tribal business ventures, including the agricultural enterprises.
“That’s what gave us the capital, number one, but number two, we have our own markets. Even though we manage them separately, the casino buys our meat at a fair market value,” Berrey said. “So, we have a high-quality product that’s managed well, and it serves the needs of the resort which serves 1,200 people a day, just employees, plus maybe another 4,000 to 5,000 patrons a day.”
Berrey says feels it is of great value to seek enterprise diversification and to develop supportive, self-sustaining businesses.
“We enjoy it. We like farming. Now we have a couple thousand acres that are going to be row crops, and now source non-GMO corn,” he said. “We hope we’re building something that our grandchildren will continue to grow, and all of our community in Ottawa County and the Joplin area, everyone is going to benefit from, not just us.”
At the event, Berrey was not only able to encourage and inspire others, but he was able to make connections and network with others in Native American and national Ag.
“It was an awesome opportunity. I spend a lot of time in DC, and I go to a lot of federal agencies, the EPA, the Department of the Interior, but when you walk into the Department of Agriculture, there’s a different environment there," said Berrey. "Everybody from the people from the guard desk to the people cleaning the bathrooms to the secretaries, the assistants, everybody seems happy and seems like they’re busy. It’s refreshing, and it’s exciting."
"The Dept. of Agriculture wants to feed people – that’s the mission of the Secretary, and what he now believes is Native Americans should be very much a part of that because we are some of the largest landowners in America.” Berrey continued. “What I took away was open arms from the Secretary and also true interest in including tribes in effort to feed all of America.”
Berrey said other tribes such as the Navajo, Blackfeet Nation, and Sioux have large farming and ranching agricultural enterprises and programs.
The Quapaw Tribe’s hope is that their own Ag programs and political relationships bring renewed interest and attention to the long well-established farming and ranching heritage of this area, such as hay and cattle production in northeast Oklahoma, and creates an agricultural hub from here to build economically sound progress and more and more jobs.
According to Berrey, support and representation in Washington DC from Scott Pruitt, Senator Jim Inhofe, and Markwayne Mullin, have been positive for the Tribe.
“They’re not about themselves, they’re really about the people of Oklahoma,” he said.
The Quapaw Tribe is committed to agricultural program development while working with other tribes to foster and strengthen tribal food sovereignty and environmental stewardship while also aiding America's food security.
“My dream is we continue to grow exponentially and clean up the land and make it better as stewards of the land, but I also see us creating a cooperative among tribes throughout the country that collectively can help feed America,” Berrey said.
President Donald Trump, through presidential proclamation, declared November National Native American Heritage Month celebrating and honoring Native American agricultural contributions throughout history to present day.
In the proclamation Trump promises aggressive regulatory reform with government-to-government consultation, to help revitalize the Nation's commitment to Indian Country, tribal sovereignty and self-determination.
“Native Americans are a testament to the deep importance of culture and vibrancy of traditions, passed down throughout generations. This month, I encourage all of our citizens to learn about the rich history and culture of the Native American people,” Trump wrote in the proclamation.
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.