Building Internal and Community Capacity for the Blackfeet Nation Through Agriculture

Progress report for PDP20-020

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $73,795.00
Projected End Date: 10/01/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G363-21-W7903
Grant Recipient: Blackfeet Tribe: Agriculture Resource Management Plan
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Will Seeley
Blackfeet Tribe: Agriculture Resource Management Plan
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Project Information


The “Building Community Capacity for the Blackfeet Nation” project aims to build capacity of Blackfeet Agriculture Resource Management Plan (ARMP) staff, local producers, local businesses, and community members by engaging in outreach and education through classroom and field courses, attendance of professional conferences, and supporting sustainable agricultural practices through the creation of a hands on Coach to be located in the Blackfeet Nation, delivering trainings and establishing a repository of resources for individuals involved in agriculture. These trainings are aligned with the goals outlined by a cross section of Blackfeet community members in the ARMP, which intends to improve economic conditions and political sovereignty of the Tribe by building the agricultural industry within the Blackfeet Nation and implementing holistic, food sovereignty projects that connect agriculture with community health. By building capacity within the community, the Tribe can ensure the implementation of the ARMP through greater involvement of key community stakeholders, overseen by dedicated professionals who are attuned to realities within the Nation, cultural, political, climatic, or otherwise. Anticipated outcomes include outreach materials that may be adapted to other tribal communities and courses that tribal producers may attend to gain exposure to new techniques and solutions to existing challenges.


The goal of this proposal is to implement the goals and objectives of the ARMP through the creation of a 1/2 FTE in partnership with AERO to organize community outreach and education efforts through workshops, tours, and pilot projects. These on the ground endeavors will create tangible programs and establish resource repositories to inform the implementation of projects such as regenerative grazing, watershed management, policy development, and community health. The Community Outreach Coordinator will facilitate outreach programs, coordinate with the Blackfeet Community College and related coursework, engage with students, work directly with landowners, and identify opportunities for the development of pilot projects.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: Create a Community Outreach Coach to disseminate information, organize workshops, events, and pilot projects, and create a repository of resources and organize professional development opportunities for producers, community college students, and residents of the Blackfeet Nation.

Objective 2: Utilize relationships with community members to implement the conservation planning, organizational development, and community engagement goals and objects of the ARMP by increasing community education, awareness, and capacity through professional development opportunities.

Objective 3: Establish reciprocal partnerships to bolster existing resources and address limitations and gaps.

Objective 4: Increase producer and community knowledge of sustainable agriculture and food systems, increase access to educational resources and tools, and provide opportunities to build local capacity to improve the ecology, economics and health of the Blackfeet Nation.


The ARMP process is guided by the principles of inclusion as far as the participatory process operates, and by the intended beneficial nature of the work for constituents (producers). Fundamentally, the team that has been selected believes in and is committed to working towards shared goals that will increase the health and prosperity of producers and their families through holistic, sustainable practices. The triple bottom line for all ARMP projects is as follows: to create sustainable economic development , reduction of health disparities among Blackfeet People, and investments in youth.

Loren BirdRattler’s dedicated and secure office is located at the Tribal Government Office complex in Browning, Montana on the Blackfeet Reservation. Other programs are situated in this complex such as the MSU Tribal Extension Office, the USDA-NRCS Office, and the Tribal Water Legal team. These offices share resources and work closely together on projects. When students and interns visit the Reservation to conduct project activities, they are provided access to a workspace in Mr. Bird Rattler’s office where they may store data and documents securely. The ARMP team is comprised of 30 individuals, many of which serve voluntarily. Surrounding the office are an abundance of field spaces. The Blackfeet Reservation encompasses 1.5 million acres, 3000 square miles and is located in Glacier and Pondera Counties. The primary industry is agriculture with reservation lands supporting 575,256 acres of crops harvested for grain (wheat, barley and oats) and forage production, of which 50,082 are irrigated acres and approximately 1,014,000 acres of grazing lands. There are 50,347 producing beef cows, 6,452 horses and 587 sheep pastured or penned on the reservation. The farms and ranches are owned and operated by 906 agricultural operators; 54 percent are Blackfeet tribal members.

Of the 500 producers currently participating in the agriculture industry, many have a younger generation of farmers and ranchers interested in joining the industry. This transition time brings about new opportunities to revitalize agriculture on the Reservation towards more sustainable practices. The Blackfeet Tribal Government, Natural Resource Conservation District, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Tribal Extension office are located centrally in Browning, Montana and have historically provided training and consultation to producers. MSU Extension outreach activity has been continuous in this area, particularly through the Tribal Extension office. The professional staff who carry out these programs would serve as ideal trainers to facilitate the dissemination of trainings focused on tribe-centered sustainable agriculture topics.


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  • Andrew Berger


Educational approach:

The ARMP team has been working closely with PLHI staff to find workshops and actively advertise opportunities available for ranchers. At the beginning of this funding, we conducted a community-wide survey and engaged with local and federal organizations to gain insight to the main areas of need for webinars and workshops. We have been prioritizing opportunities that have been presented by this survey as key needs.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Winter Regenerative Grazing Workshops at Sieben Livestock Company

The objective was to support ranchers interested in regenerative grazing by supplying funding for a winter regenerative grazing workshop attendance fees. This was to introduce regenerative grazing principles and show attendees in-field the setup and maintenance of the operation in an area with similar conditions to the Blackfeet Nation.


The operation practices covered in the workshop are as follows: Estimating available standing forage and how that relates to stocking capacity in winter pasture. Planning the grazing season. Economic considerations, fencing options, and pasture movements, and water development. Hands-on experience working with the cattle and observing pre and post move forage, manure, soil, and other impacts. Peer-to-peer networking with small rancher groups from around the region interested in or beginning to implement more adaptive grazing management.

Outcomes and impacts:

The outcome of this event was successful. Ranchers that attended were able to see, first-hand, the operations practices and the results Sieben Livestock has seen from their changes. Many ranchers were able to walk away from the event with ideas on how to alter the practices and experiment with these ideas on their operation. For example, one of the ranchers that attended has now altered their calving time until later in the season. This was also a chance for ranchers to see the differences in Sieben Livestock’s landscape and circumstances to their own. This led way for many conversations on how these practices could be translated for different conditions or what might not be a viable option for all ranching operations.  

Summer Regenerative Grazing Workshops at Sieben Livestock Company

The objective was to support ranchers interested in regenerative grazing by supplying funding for attendance fees for summer regenerative grazing workshops. This was to introduce regenerative grazing principles and show attendees in-field the setup and maintenance of the operation in an area with similar conditions to the Blackfeet Nation.


The operation practices covered in this workshop are as follows: Estimating available standing forage and how that relates to stocking capacity in summer pasture. Discussion of conditions at Sieben summer pasture similar to specific ranchers on the Blackfeet Nation. Planning summer moves and grazing season. Reaching the landscape for signs of when to move. Solar power electric fencing designs for water development infrastructure. Hands-on experience working with the cattle and observing pre and post move forage, manure, soil, and other impacts in summer pasture. Discussion of conservation programs within the summer pasture and partnerships with FWP and Forest Service at Sieben Livestock.

Outcomes and impacts:

The outcome for this event was similar to the winter grazing workshop in its success. This gave attendees the ability to see the diversity of the landscape the Sieben Livestock works on and how they structure their rotational grazing. Along with supporting ranchers, this grant was able to cover the registration fees for several regenerative grazing interns as well. These interns were very engaged with the materials being covered and we hope that they will be able to apply this knowledge into their future careers and endeavors.

Local Regenerative Grazing Workshop with Sieben Livestock Company

The objective for this workshop was to bring the Sieben Livestock to the Blackfeet Nation to give a presentation on regenerative grazing principles and site-specific recommendations. One of the driving factors for having the workshop locally was for rancher accessibility. We had two different workshops located in different places to cut down on drive time to encourage more participation.


This workshop was focused on bringing Sieben Livestock employees to local sites to share their experience and successes with rest-intensive short duration adaptive grazing, as well as no-till hay production and low-stress animal handling. These practices have attributed to an increase in profitability and improved land, animal, and soil health for their operation.

Outcomes and impacts:

This workshop was successful in showing the employees of Sieben Livestock the working landscape of the Blackfeet Nation for more informed workshops. These workshops were held at two rancher’s homes that currently participate in PLHI’s regenerative grazing pilot project. The workshops from this day included a short presentation of regenerative grazing principles, discussion of local agricultural issues, and three site-specific consultations from Sieben Livestock for the pilot sites. These consultations reaffirmed grazing plans and helped in developing small, achievable experiments to set them up for success.  These built confidence in the ranchers that attended to start implementing changes for their operations for the coming year.

Local Food Systems Leader Virtual Training

The objective of this training was to build leadership skills and increase capacity within our community’s food sovereignty focused nonprofits.


This training provides skill development for engagement in food systems. This includes topics from standard food systems language and working within food systems, to inclusion, leadership, facilitation, professional development, and evaluation. 

Outcomes and impacts:

The outcomes of this course are as follows: Three Certified Local Food Systems Leaders within our community. The creation of action plans for the next steps for our local food system by these three leaders. Established cohort of other food leaders from around the state. Participants of this course have stated that they found the leadership skills most useful from this course. These are skills they can utilize across many different realms within their organizations, including planning strategies and logic modules.

Continued Outreach

This continued outreach aims to disseminate relevant information widely across multiple platforms. There are many organizations alongside that ARMP doing great work, and we hope to make it simple and accessible to producers to have up-to-date information.


The funds granted by Western Sare provided the ARMP the opportunity to bring on a Big Sky Watershed Corps member for the year 2021. This member took on improving the group's outreach work by revamping and increasing the consistency of updates on our current platforms: the Blackfeet ARMP weekly email bulletin, Facebook page, and weekly newspaper article in coordination with the Blackfeet Nation Stock Growers Association. Content shared on these platforms consists of FSA and NRCS programs, job opportunities, funding streams, and workshops. This member has increased our following, engagement, and input from community members.

Outcomes and impacts:

As an outcome of this work, our weekly email bulletin gained 37 new subscribers and had an opening rate of 26%, higher than the average for all industries as well as agriculture and services email bulletins. Our Facebook following has doubled in the last year. Our outreach worker started an Instagram account to reach younger producers. Lastly, they wrote a weekly article (over 30) for the local newspaper, coving local agricultural opportunities and updates, food sovereignty projects and accomplishments, and local conservation work. These have been featured regularly as the newspaper’s top story. An archive of these articles and bulletins can be found on our website.

Ranching for Profit Webinar

This workshop aims to introduce Ranching for Profit and allow a space for ranchers to bring up specific concerns they face here on the Blackfeet Nation for Ranching for Profit to address in the workshop in the spring.


The webinar will present some new tools for your ranch through the RFP program on building drought resiliency, supporting landscape biodiversity, improving the productivity of pastures without spraying or seeding, and increasing ranch carrying capacity while reducing workload and operating costs. This webinar has been created in partnership with PLHI and Montana Audubon.

Outcomes and impacts:

This webinar will lay the groundwork and encourage participation for local in-field workshops this spring and summer with Ranching for Profit.

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Online trainings
44 Published press articles, newsletters
6 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

10 Nonprofit
15 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

12 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
9 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

We have been working carefully to make sure we are particular with our events as COVID 19 is still prevalent in this area. We are making sure to adhere to the ever-changing local safety protocols. We have been satisfied with our events that have been able to happen. We found the workshops to be approachable for the ranchers and many specific questions were able to be addressed. We hope through these educational events, ranchers can then teach their peers on success and pit falls they have run into through the process. When we started establishing priority areas, we found that NRCS would benefit greatly from technical support with webinar trainings. For the spring quarter we are going to work with their local agent to identify which topics to cover within their work.

We have found that will need to alter the budget to continue with how we planned to execute these trainings. We are holding off on future trainings until this has been addressed so we can move forward with payments in a timely manner.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.