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The founding director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law is moving on. Janie Simms Hipp, J.D., LL.M., an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation, will now lead a new Native American Agriculture Fund. (Read Native Business Magazine‘s article “Native American Agriculture Fund Created to Distribute $266M Trust.”)

Hipp was recently appointed president and CEO of the new organization, where she will oversee $266 million in funds derived from the Keepseagle settlement. The Native American Agriculture Fund is the largest philanthropic organization in Indian Country. The fund’s 14 board members hail from tribal communities across the nation.

The organization will provide funding for business assistance, agricultural education, technical support and advocacy services to Native American farmers and ranchers to help support and promote their work in agriculture.

Janie Simms Hipp (UofA)

Hipp launched the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas, after serving as senior advisor for tribal relations to former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. She previously served as national program leader in the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, leading national programs on farm financial management, risk management, trade adjustment assistance, and farmer and rancher development. In addition, she has a long legal career specializing in agriculture and Indian law.

“The IFAI has a strong team of professionals who have joined with me since our inception to do groundbreaking work,” said Hipp. “I have deep trust in Colby’s leadership, judgment and vision for the years ahead. His work on behalf of all Native nations and communities throughout the country has prepared him for this role. He is a recognized expert in the intersection of Indian law and agriculture and food law, and I know the years ahead are bright and will be filled with important work on behalf of Indian Country.”

Taking over the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, a unit within the University of Arkansas’ Office of Economic Development, as director is Colby Duren. He has served as policy director and staff attorney of the organization since 2017.

“A key component to any organization’s success is the ability to plan for and execute leadership transitions,” said Stacy Leeds, vice chancellor for economic development. “The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative will continue to fill a critical role as a national leader, as a think tank and as a direct service provider to many tribes and businesses across the United States. We are fortunate to have had strong leadership in Janie and now Colby.”

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative works with tribal governments, farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses to assist with planning, education and implementation of healthy food systems. The group’s work focuses on improving health and wellness in tribal communities through healthy food systems, diversified economic development and cultural food traditions in Indian Country. The initiative also engages Native American youth through education and development programs to build a talent pipeline focused on building the capacity of agriculture and food systems.

“I am very excited and incredibly honored to serve IFAI in my new capacity as director,” said Duren. “In establishing the IFAI, Janie built a solid foundation and an amazing team that I am proud to work alongside.”

Colby Duren (UofA)

Duren has more than 11 years of national-level experience in federal Indian law and policy, with a specific focus on food, agriculture and natural resources issues. Prior to joining the initiative he served as a staff attorney and legislative counsel for the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., advocating on behalf of Tribal Nations on land, natural resources and agriculture issues, including the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills. Previously, he was a legal assistant for the Native American Rights Fund in the Washington, D.C., office, and a paralegal and legislative assistant at OFW Law, a Washington, D.C., law firm specializing in food and agriculture policy. In 2016, Duren’s work on environmental issues in Indian Country was nominated by the Native American Bar Association of Washington, D.C., for its Significant Contribution in Indian Law Award.

“Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to assist tribal governments, tribal organizations, and tribal citizens and I look forward to bringing my experience and dedication to further IFAI’s core mission of empowering Indian Country economic development, improving access to food, and supporting tribal self-governance and self-determination,” said Duren. “At the heart of this work is continuing the IFAI’s roles and partnerships to empower Native youth in their food and agriculture pursuits to be the next leaders in Indian Country.”

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