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cooperating to enhance native american food economies


cornelius blanding

Executive Director, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/LAF

Cornelius Blanding began his career in development work as an economic development intern for the City of Miami Beach. Since then, he has gained a broad experience base spanning rural, international and cooperative economic development.

His experiences include business and project development, management and marketing. He has worked as a small business development and management consultant, manager of a multi-million-dollar revolving loan fund, domestic and international project director, Director of Field Operations & Special Projects, Deputy Director and, currently, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund.

Cornelius has also served and continues to serve on various boards and committees, including NCBA CLUSA, Agricultural Safety & Health Council of America, Southeast Climate Consortium and the Presbyterian Committee on the Self Development of People.


jackson brossy

Executive Director, Native CDFI Network

Jackson S. Brossy is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation with several years’ experience in management, federal advocacy, non-profits and private consulting. Growing up on the Navajo Nation, he knows first-hand the need for access to capital for Native entrepreneurs and has devoted much of his professional life to advancing opportunities for Native American economic development. Previously he headed federal affairs and relations for the Navajo Nation in Washington, D.C. As Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Washington Office, he regularly met with Congressional and federal stakeholders to advocate for advances in tribal policy. In this position, he developed testimony, testified before Congress, managed an office, developed a budget, hired professional staff, and maintained communications with leadership stakeholders.

Prior to working for the Navajo Nation, he worked in the private sector in Washington as both a management consultant for tribal governments and tribal corporations and also as a manager for a Native-owned federal contracting company. Jackson has also worked for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and specialized in economic development policy.

He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Stanford University where he studied economics, statistics and public policy. He earned a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he studied business and government policy. He is from the To’aheedliinii (Water Flows Together) clan. He lives outside of Washington, D.C. with his wife and children.


Dave Carter

Principle, Crystal Springs Consulting

Since 2001 Dave Carter has helped producers and companies connect with consumers seeking authentic organic, sustainable, and natural food products as principal of Crystal Springs Consulting.

Over 30 years of experience in agriculture, alternative livestock marketing, natural food entrepreneurship and regulatory affairs, Carter has established a national reputation for working with farmers and ranchers to develop production and marketing systems that connected growers with customers.

In 2001, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman appointed Carter to the USDA National Organic Standards Board serving as board chair of during the implementation of the National Organic Standards. In 2013, Carter had a key role in winning approval from the USDA and the FDA for the use of the Non GMO Project Verified label on meat, poultry and dairy products. During the past decade, he has assisted producers in establishing new marketing cooperatives, guided companies in obtaining organic certification, and worked with other companies to establish sound, audit-based protocols for verifying the claims they make to their customers.

Carter co-founded the Pet Promise brand of natural pet food and a part-time director of the National Bison Association.


Erbin Crowell

Executive Director, Neighboring Food Co-op Association, Immediate Past Chair, Board of Directors, National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International

Erbin Crowell serves as Executive Director of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA), a secondary co-operative of 40 food co-ops and startup initiatives across New England and New York State working together to build a more healthy, just, and sustainable food system.  With a combined membership of 164,000 people, the NFCA supports the growth and success of its member co-ops through shared marketing and educational programs, sourcing initiatives, organizational partnerships, and peer collaboration and innovation.

Erbin has spent his career in the co-op movement, including work with the Cooperative Fund of New England, the Cooperative Development Institute, the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-ops, and as an independent consultant. For more than a decade, he was a member of Equal Exchange, a pioneer in the Fair Trade movement, where his experience included work with indigenous farmer co-ops in Latin America and Africa. He is the immediate past chair of NCBA CLUSA’s Board of Directors and serves on the boards of the New England Farmers Union and the Co-operative Management Education Co-operative (CMEC).

Erbin received his B.A. in Anthropology from Brown University, with a focus on indigenous strategies for economic development, cultural preservation, and education.  He holds a Master of Management: Co-operatives & Credit Unions from Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia.


Zach ducheneaux

Administrator, Farm Service Agency, US Department of Agriculture

Zach Ducheneaux was appointed Administrator for USDA’s Farm Service Agency on February 22, 2021. In this role Ducheneaux will provide leadership and direction on agricultural policy, administering credit and loan programs, and managing conservation, commodity, disaster and farm marketing programs through a national network of offices.

Ducheneaux previously served as the Executive Director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council, the largest, longest-standing Native American agriculture organization in the United States. The Council represents all Federally Recognized Tribes and serves 80,000 Native American producers. Ducheneaux has been with the Council since the 1990s in various leadership positions, including as former tribal council representative for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. He has spent his career educating people about the critical role of improved food systems, value-added agriculture, and foreign exports to respond to the enduring economic and social challenges facing Native Americans and reservations.

Ducheneaux serves on the board of directors for Project H3LP!, a nonprofit founded by his family to benefit his local community by providing life lessons and therapy through horsemanship. He operates his family’s ranch on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in north central South Dakota with his brothers.


Colby Duren

Director of Policy and Government Relations, Intertribal Agriculture Council

Colby is the Director of Policy and Government Relations for the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC). He leads IAC’s Washington, DC-based policy and advocacy initiatives, including the Native Farm Bill Coalition work, which is now housed under the IAC thanks to a generous grant from the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF). Colby has more than 13 years of experience in federal Indian law and policy, with a specific focus on food, agriculture, nutrition, natural resources, and economic development, including work on three Farm Bills.


Prior to joining the IAC, Colby served as Director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law (IFAI) and was IFAI’s Policy Director and Staff Attorney before becoming Director. In those roles, he supported the establishment of the Native Farm Bill Coalition in 2017, an effort which included the IAC as founding organization and led to 63 Tribal-specific changes in the 2018 Farm Bill. 


Previously, Colby served as Staff Attorney and Legislative Counsel for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in Washington, DC, advocating on behalf of Tribal Nations on agriculture, land, and natural resources issues. He also was a Legal Assistant and Law Clerk for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) Washington, DC office, and a Paralegal and Legislative Assistant at Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC in Washington, DC specializing in food and agriculture policy, and represented Tribes on land reparation and agriculture issues.


Colby earned his law degree from the American University Washington College of Law in Washington, DC, his Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, and his Master of Laws in Agricultural and Food Law from the University of Arkansas School of Law. Colby is licensed to practice in Maryland, the District of Columbia, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and the Supreme Court of the United States.


In 2016, Colby was nominated by the Native American Bar Association of Washington, DC for its Significant Contribution in Indian Law Award for his work on environmental issues in Indian Country. He was also recognized by IAC membership in December 2018 for his work supporting Tribal governments and Tribal producers in the development of the 2018 Farm Bill.

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Roger fragua

Consultant and President, Cota Holdings, LLC and Flower Hill Institute

Roger Fragua (Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico) has dedicated his professional career to the advancement and development of American Indian communities. Roger is currently the President of Cota Holdings, LLC, and ndnEnergy, LLC, whose mission is to support Tribal community and economic development in the energy sector. Cota is currently engaged with several Tribal development projects as well as supporting energy companies’ efforts within Indian Country.

Roger served the Tribes as the Deputy Director of the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT), based in Denver, Colorado. Under the direction of the elected leadership of the 47 federally recognized Tribes and four Canadian First Nations, CERT has dramatically restructured the federal-Indian relationship with respect to minerals, mining, taxation, and Tribal jurisdiction over environmental regulations on Indian lands.

Prior to joining CERT, Roger worked as a manager for Enron Corporation in Houston, Texas where he was instrumental in creating innovative business concepts and promoting partnerships between Tribes and Enron. Enron, the most innovative Fortune 500 Corporation in the U.S. over the last several years, developed a genuine interest in seeking partnerships with Tribes in many areas of energy development, not limited to but to include; gas, electricity, wind and water.

Roger has also worked with the Western Governors’ Association and the National Tribal Environmental Council on State and Tribal relations as it relates to environmental issues. The basis for Roger’s commitment to Indian Country is steeped in his long tenured background as the Tribal Administrator for his own Pueblo. Roger served as the Tribal political and business resource of the Pueblo of Jemez for several years.

Roger is married to Clarice of San Felipe Pueblo, New Mexico and has three sons and one daughter.


dr. Murry fulton

Director and Professor, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon

In addition to being the director and a professor at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School's University of Saskatchewan campus, Dr. Murray Fulton is also a Co-operative Retailing System Chair in Co-operative Governance and a Fellow in Co-operatives and Public Policy in the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives. His research and teaching interests are focused in a number of areas, including industrial organization, agricultural and rural policy, and public sector and co-operative governance. He is the co-author of a number of books and reports, including Canadian Agricultural Policy and Prairie Agriculture and Co-operatives and Canadian Society. Fulton has also written many articles and papers on industrial organization, agricultural policy, and co-operatives. One important area of research has been an examination of the changes that are occurring in agriculture and the response of organizations – including agricultural co-operatives – to these changes. His current research is focused on governance and executive compensation in the public and quasi-public sectors. He is also interested in behavioural economics and its application to business strategy and public policy formation.


Carly Griffith Hotvedt, J.D., M.P.A

Associate Director, Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative

Carly Griffith Hotvedt, a citizen of Cherokee Nation, is a seasoned legal professional, admitted to practice in Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation and Muscogee (Creek) Nation, with an affinity for government law, agriculture, tribal policy and public administration. In her previous role as Director of Tribal Enterprise with the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, she worked with tribes and in tribal policy to advance food security and tribal agriculture enterprise development. Prior to joining IFAI, she created and directed the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Muscogee (Creek) Nation, where she initiated an overhaul of the Agribusiness operation resulting in a 70%+ loss margin reduction and set the program on track for profitability.

Carly clerked for the late Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Marion Opala while in law school, in addition to municipal internships with the City of Lawton and the City of Norman. She maintains a perfect success record for summary judgment motions in Oklahoma district and federal court. She has a 100% success rate in the Courts of the Cherokee Nation.

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Chris james

President & CEO, The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development

Chris James is the President and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, the largest business development and technical assistance training organization in the country for American Indian and Alaska Native-owned businesses. A former Associate Administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration and U.S. Treasury official, Mr. James has doubled the National Center’s revenue during his tenure, expanding procurement and training programs throughout the country while boosting attendance to the annual Reservation Economic Summit by nearly 30% in the last five years.

Mr. James manages a team of nearly 30 staff and contractors based in seven offices across the country, all focused on enhancing the resilience of small and medium enterprises, promoting holistic community planning, and supporting tribal governments and small business owners in developing a strategic approach to economic development.

Fostering strong relationships with supplier diversity offices at Fortune 500 companies such as Lockheed Martin, Nike, Google, Square Inc; Northup Grumman, Alaska Airlines, Microsoft and IBM, the National Center has grown the number of businesses it supports from 200 per year, to more than 1,000.

Mr. James also leads the National Center’s advocacy work, coordinating with allies and tribal governments to hold local, state, and federal government officials accountable and constructively promoting policy changes that support access to capital and resources for small business incubation and growth. Under his leadership, the National Center has launched a Native Edge Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), and the National Center now boasts over $4 billion in procurement it has helped National Center clients secure.

From 2011 – 2016, Mr. James was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as Associate Administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), where he led the Office of Field Operations, and the Office of Native American Affairs, and where he established the SBA’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Managing a workforce of over 800 people with an annual operating budget of more than $200 million, Mr. James oversaw programs and services that affected all 50 states and every U.S. territory, and served as a liaison to domestic and international corporate partners and stakeholders. Mr. James was also the officer on record for Tribal Consultation.

Among his accomplishments at SBA was the creation of Startup in a Day, which worked with cities and Native American communities to create streamlined platforms to allow entrepreneurs to apply for all relevant business permits in an expedited manner. Mr. James was also the agency lead on the SupplierPay program, which worked with nearly 50 Fortune 500 companies to speed up payments to suppliers.

Prior to SBA, Mr. James was an Associate Program Manager at the U.S. Department of the Treasury from 2009-2011, serving as a liaison between the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, Native American tribal governments, and other federal government agencies. During his tenure at Treasury, he approved over $120 million dollars in funding to deserving applicants, and helped grow the number of certified Native CDFIs by 30%.

Mr. James began his career in his fathers small restaurants on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina. Prior to his federal service, he was the Associate Director for the Sequoyah Fund, a Native American CDFI and an enterprise of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Mr. James is a Board member of Junior Achievement USA, Board Chair of Native Edge Finance, Committee Co-Chair, Supplier Diversity, Energy Research Collaborative, American Petroleum Institute, and sits on the Advisory Board of First Peoples Worldwide. He also serves as a Board Member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’s Center for Indian Country Progress Leadership Council, and is a Member of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Diversity in Tech Working Group, and a Board Member of New Mexico Community Capital. Mr. James also served as a volunteer Agency Review Team (ART) member of President Biden’s Transition at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

Mr. James has a B.A. in Communication Studies from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, a Master of Entrepreneurship from Western North Carolina University and is currently enrolled at Harvard University in the Nonprofit Management Graduate program. Mr. James is of Cherokee descent and originally from Cherokee, North Carolina, home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, where his family has owned small businesses on the Reservation for more than 5 decades.


Stacy Leeds

Foundation Professor of Law and Leadership, Sandra Day O'Connor College, Arizona State University

Stacy Leeds is an experienced leader in law, higher education, governance and economic development. She is the Foundation Professor of Law and Leadership at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University. Leeds is Dean Emeritus, University of Arkansas School of Law and the first Indigenous woman to lead a Law School (2011-2018). During her tenure as dean, Arkansas Law achieved the highest-ever rankings: No. 1 Best Value in Legal Education (National Jurist 2014) and 33rd among public law schools (U.S. News 2014).

From 2017-2020, Leeds served as the inaugural Vice Chancellor for Economic Development at the University of Arkansas. She planned and implemented the new Office of Economic Development to maximize university innovation for societal impact. Her portfolio included technology transfer, industry partnerships, small business and entrepreneurial support and programs seeking to increase access to capital.

Leeds is a teacher and scholar of Indigenous law and policy. Her previous academic roles include: Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at Arizona State University, director of the Tribal Law & Government Center at the University of Kansas, and director of the Northern Plains Indian Law Center at the University of North Dakota. She began her career in legal education as a William H. Hastie Fellow at University of Wisconsin School of Law.

Leeds was the first woman to serve as a Justice on the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court. She later served as Chairperson of the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission. She is currently a district court judge for Muscogee (Creek) Nation and an appellate court judge for Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. She is frequently tapped to assist in conflict resolution, including arbitration and informal mediation. Leeds currently serves on the board of directors for Kituwah Economic Development (Kituwah LLC), American Indian Graduate Center, American Indian Resource Center, Inc. and chairperson for Akiptan, Inc (CDFI).

She also served as a commissioner on the National Commission on American Indian Trust Administration and Reform for the United States Department of Interior and as an outside director for Arvest Bank (Fayetteville). Leeds holds law degrees from University of Wisconsin (LL.M.) and University of Tulsa (J.D.), a business degree from University of Tennessee (M.B.A)., and an undergraduate degree in history from Washington University in St. Louis (B.A.). While at University of Arkansas, Leeds created the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative to amplify tribal food sovereignty issues and grow leaders/professionals to support tribal-agribusiness and small businesses, especially Native farmers and ranchers. Her latest food, health and wellness endeavor is, a blog with Indigenous communities in mind, particularly Native women.


A former athlete and life-long sports enthusiast, Leeds was inducted into the Muskogee Athletic Hall of Fame in her hometown in Oklahoma. She played varsity basketball and tennis at Washington University. In 2016, she completed a 950-mile journey as a Cherokee Nation Remember the Removal cyclist.

She lives in the Cherokee Nation, near Tahlequah. She works throughout the United States, with her law school homebase in downtown Phoenix at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University.

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Jason Lueders

Regional Vice President, CoBank

In his role Jason leads CoBank’s Minneapolis and Fargo Banking Centers, which provide over $4 billion of financing to farmer-owned cooperatives and other middle market agribusinesses across five upper Midwest states. Additionally, he leads CoBank’s Growing Rural America Initiative that targets small and emerging cooperatives across the country, and serves on the boards of the Agricultural Retailers Association and the Ralph K. Morris Foundation. Prior to joining CoBank in 2007, Jason was a relationship manager in US Bank’s Food and Agribusiness Group where he worked with agribusinesses across the U.S.; he also has experience in general commercial banking with US Bank and Community First Bank (nka Bank of the West). Jason holds a B.S. in Agricultural Business from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, an MBA from the University of North Dakota, and is a graduate of the Stonier Graduate School of Banking at the University of Pennsylvania.


James Matson

Owner & Principle, Matson Consulting

James Matson has a passion for helping rural businesses, whether they are looking to start a new business or wanting to expand their current operation. He is a business advisor with expertise in many areas involved with marketing and business organization. Mr. Matson has more than 25 years marketing, developing, researching, writing, and teaching experience in management for private, government, and non-profit organizations. He is currently the owner and lead consultant for Matson Consulting where he uses his years of national and international experience to bring his passion to life.

In 2001, Mr. Matson created Matson Consulting to specialize in helping rural businesses in a variety of industries. The firm’s major project areas include feasibility studies, business plans, strategic plans, marketing strategies, grants, and proposals.


Matson Consulting has primarily focused on local foods and economic development in rural areas and the ways in which businesses can succeed within this area. Mr. Matson’s passion for this industry is evident in the many articles and reports he has written with the staff at his consulting firm. The most recent example of Mr. Matson’s dedication to local foods is in the USDA Service Report titled, “Running a Food Hub: A Business Operations Guide.”


Mr. Matson has obtained over 25 years of professional experience, half of which involved running his own consulting firm. Previous positions include working in and out of the United States with various organizations. His experience has been gathered from around the world including Uruguay, Peru, Argentina, Spain, and Japan.


As part of his international professional experience, Mr. Matson worked as an Agribusiness Specialist in Bolivia. While in this position, Mr. Matson gained experience in agricultural marketing, trade promotion, grant management, strategic planning, and association strengthening. This position allowed him to gain valuable insight into the document creation process and experience working with grants and the application process.


Within the United States, Mr. Matson was a part of the USDA Rural Business Cooperative Service in Washington D.C. where he worked as an Agricultural Marketing Specialist. Most of Mr. Matson’s expertise and knowledge of feasibility studies stems from his position with the USDA where he conducted and reviewed feasibility studies, marketing strategies, and business plans of producer-owned businesses. This has allowed him to gain valuable insight into the components of these documents and the best uses for businesses.


Mr. Matson maintains a strong presence within the education system and has taught multiple economic and marketing classes for several universities. These positions allow him to share his expertise on all aspects of basic economic theory. He is also a licensed amateur radio operator and is a volunteer for emergency and disaster preparedness operations.


Jerry Mcgeorge

Executive Vice President of People, Organic Valley

Jerry McGeorge is a passionate advocate for the cooperative business model and organic agriculture. For the past 19 years, McGeorge has worked at CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley, beginning as Assistant to the CEO and rising to his current position of Executive Vice President of People. A longtime member of the Senior Management Team, his current duties include oversight of human resources, organizational development, administration, sustainability efforts and investor relations functions.


McGeorge has served on NCBA CLUSA’s Board of Directors for the past nine years, assuming several leadership roles, including a term as Board Chair from 2013 to 2015. He previously served on the Board of Directors of the Viroqua Food Co-op, a natural foods co-op in his hometown. He was actively involved in the co-op’s move to a new facility, including spearheading the necessary capital campaign. McGeorge earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Middle Tennessee State University in 1992. The turning point in his career came when he interviewed at Organic Valley and learned that the cooperative movement was the best place to help build a better world. When he is not at work, McGeorge enjoys gardening and spending time in beautiful Southwestern Wisconsin.


Kathleen Merrigan

Executive Director, Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, Arizona State University

Kathleen Merrigan, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and a leader in sustainable food systems, is the first executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University. Merrigan also holds the position of the Kelly and Brian Swette Professor of Practice in Sustainable Food Systems with appointments in the School of Sustainability, College of Health Solutions and School of Public Affairs.

Merrigan was executive director of Sustainability at George Washington University (GW), where she led the GW Sustainability Collaborative, GW Food Institute, and served as professor of public policy. GW sustainability accolades include a “Gold” rating by the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and designation by the U.S. Department of Education as a “Green Ribbon” higher education institution. Merrigan serves as a co-chair for AGree, board director for the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and FoodCorps, a member of the Harvard Pilgrim Healthy Food Fund Advisory Committee, senior advisor at the Kendall Foundation, and steering committee member of the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors of the National Council for Science and the Environment and the United Nations Environment Programme led initiative TEEB for Agriculture & Food.

From 2009-2013, Merrigan was U.S. Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a $150 billion, 110,000 employee institution. As Deputy Secretary, she created and led the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative to support local food systems; was a key architect of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign; and made history as the first woman to chair the Ministerial Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Before joining the USDA, Merrigan held a variety of agriculture policy positions, including faculty member at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Administrator of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, and senior staff on the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, where she wrote the law establishing national standards for organic food.

Recognizing the history and scope of her work, Time Magazine named Merrigan among the “100 most influential people in the world” in 2010.


Dr. Karama Neal

Administrator, Rural Development-Cooperative Service, US Department of Agriculture

Prior to joining USDA Rural Development, Karama Neal served as president of Southern Bancorp Community Partners, a nonprofit community development loan fund and financial development organization promoting economic mobility in rural Arkansas and Mississippi. She spent twelve years at Southern and led their small business, consumer and other development lending, consumer and savings focused public policy work, and a variety of financial development services to help low and moderate wealth families and communities build wealth.


In 2013, Dr. Neal started a statewide grassroots organization promoting passage of the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act in Arkansas which was passed in 2015. This work was inspired by her family’s ownership of rural heirs property in the state. Before joining Southern, she had a career in the biosciences and worked for a period in biofuels informatics with a focus on feedstocks and balancing food and fuel priorities. For six years, Dr. Neal served on the board of the Little Rock Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.


After completing her undergraduate degree in biology at Swarthmore College, Dr. Neal later earned a doctorate in genetics from Emory University and a master’s in bioethics and health policy from Loyola University Chicago. She also completed executive education in impact investing at the University of Oxford Said School of Business.

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doug O'brien

President & CEO, NCBA CLUSA

Doug O'Brien works with the cooperative community, both domestically and internationally, to deepen their impact and influence. NCBA is the primary voice for cooperatives in the United States for using the cooperative business model to empower people in their businesses and communities. Doug has been with NCBA since 2016 and became president and CEO in January 2018.

Before coming to NCBA CLUSA, Doug led the work of the White House Rural Council and served in top positions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Doug has also worked in the U.S. Senate, U.S. House and for two Governors. O'Brien's experience in academia includes teaching and writing at the University of Arkansas and Drake University Law School.

O’Brien was raised on a diversified farm in Dubuque County, Iowa, and holds degrees from Loras College (Dubuque, Iowa), the University of Iowa Law School, and the University of Arkansas Masters in Agricultural and Food Law Program. O’Brien lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, with his wife, Alisa and three children. He enjoys biking, travel, his memberships in a number of consumer co-ops and credit unions.


Trista Pewapisconias

Indigenous Relations Lead, Cooperatives First

Trista Pewapisconias is a member of the Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan and Indigenous Relations Lead for Co-operatives First. In her role with Co-operatives First, Trista works alongside community members to form new businesses based on the co-operative model. Her support with business development and planning helps guide groups through the process of starting a successful business. Trista’s professional experience includes various marketing roles, as well as writing business plans for Indigenous start-up companies. A tireless advocate for Indigenous business, Trista is also a founding board member of the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce of Saskatchewan and holds an MBA from Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan.


C.E. Pugh

CEO, National Co+op Grocers

C.E. Pugh is CEO of National Co+op Grocers (NCG), the business services cooperative for retail food co-ops located throughout the U.S. NCG’s 145 member and associate co-ops operate more than 200 storefronts in 37 states with combined annual sales of nearly $2.1 billion.

A native of southwest Virginia, C.E. has spent his entire adult life in the grocery industry. He views improving the food system as a spiritual endeavor and believes food co-ops will continue to lead in creating more just and sustainable local food economies.


Kandis quam

Marketing and Research Specialist, Cooperative Catalyst of New Mexico

Kandis is the marketing and research Cooperative Catalyst of New Mexico. Kandis is an artist from the Pueblo of Zuni and a founding member-owner of the Ancestral Rich Treasures of Zuni Cooperative (ARTZ). Kandis attended New Mexico State University, where she graduated with a Bachelor's in Cultural Anthropology and a minor in American Indian Studies. At Cooperative Catalyst Kandis assists  with cooperative development clients and manages  social media, marketing, and research efforts. In collaboration with several organizations from across North America, Kandis is deeply engaged in a two-year-long research project aimed at implementing best practices for cooperative development in Indigenous communities. 


Chris Roper

Indigenous Agriculture LLC

After graduating from Oklahoma State University in 1995 with a degree in Construction Science Roper spent approximately fifteen years managing construction projects in various capacities. Projects range in size from $1,000,000 to $200,000,000.  Projects include large-scale ag projects, hospitals, school facilities, casinos, hotels, condominiums, office buildings, daycares, wellness centers, convenience stores, meat processing facilities, greenhouses, coffee roasting facilities, micro breweries, housing, justice centers, elder centers, and animal feeding and processing facilities.


In 2010 Chris began working solely with the Quapaw Nation in northeast Oklahoma under Chairman John Berrey.  While at Quapaw, Chris oversaw all construction projects for the nation and began building the Tribe’s now multi-million dollar agricultural programs. The agricultural programs began with bison and then onto cattle, greenhouses, honey bees, coffee roasting, meat processing, animal feeding/ finishing, row crops, farmers markets, internship programs, and dog training.


Today, Chris continues to work as an independent consultant with tribes and tribal organizations throughout the nation on various economic development projects, agricultural endeavors, and food Sovereignty projects.


Pamela standing

Executive Director, Minnesota Indigenous Business Alliance

Pamela Standing left a 16-year international business career in 1991, at the invitation of Principal Chief, Wilma Mankiller to return home and assist in grass roots organizing and rural tribal economic development.  It was during this time she was able to draw upon her unique and diverse experiences from business and international travel to move into Indigenous-led organizational and business development. It was during this time she worked with a group of talented, community-minded Cherokee women to assist in the vision and development of the Native Women’s Cooperative.


Standing specializes in culturally based business, and strategic planning. Her experience has shown her that Indigenous-led organizations and small-businesses can be healthy and demonstrate a clear quadruple bottom line focused on cultural, social, environmental, and financial prosperity of most importance to Indigenous communities. She endeavors to close the disparity gap through cooperative work, collaboration and forming partnerships and alliances that ultimately result in the sharing of resources.


In 2007, she helped co-found the Minnesota Indigenous Business Alliance (MNIBA) to support Native entrepreneurs, artists and small businesses and currently serves as the Executive Director.


In 2019, through her partnership and contract status with Cooperative Development Services (CDS) she was able to participate in CooperationWorks’ co-op developer training series.  It was through her participation in this program that inspired her exploration into how Indigenous language, Cultural Lifeways and practices aligned with Eurocentric cooperative practices.  Historically, Native Nations built equitable economic systems were grounded in cooperation, sharing, and responsibility for the wellbeing of the community.  This was exemplified by the practice of the giveaway, where accumulated wealth was redistributed among its members, so the community had life and prosperity. This practice continues today.  She brings a new lens to expand the use of cooperative approaches in Indigenous communities throughout the U.S., a greatly under-developed space in the cooperative world.  Working with Cooperative Development Services (CDS) as a contractor under a USDA grant, she was able to interview approximately 50 Indigenous-led cooperatives in the U.S. and a few in Canada to create case studies. CDS provided the editors and in 2020 she was able to write and publish the first-ever Guide to Indigenous Community Cooperative Development.


Standing holds a BA in Education and a MBA in International Business. She is a citizen of Cherokee Nation.


toni stanger-mclaughlin

CEO, Native American Agriculture Fund

Toni Stanger-McLaughlin, J.D., a citizen of the Colville Confederated Tribes, serves as NAAF’s CEO.

For over a decade Ms. Stanger-McLaughlin has compassionately worked in agriculture law and policy, operating in various capacities at both the highest levels of the federal government and in her direct work for many tribes. Prior to joining NAAF, she served as the director of tribal relations for the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative.

After working towards settling millions of dollars in civil rights claims on behalf of American Indian farmers and ranchers and updating sacred sites policy for the U.S. Forest Service, she departed the Department of Agriculture Office of the Secretary to establish a successful consulting business.

She attended the University of North Dakota School of Law to study federal Indian law. In her spare time, Toni enjoys being outdoors with her husband and three children, as well as beading and sewing powwow regalia for her immediate and extended family.


heather dawn thompson

Director, Office of Tribal Relations, US Department of Agriculture

Heather Dawn Thompson is Director of the Office of Tribal Relations (OTR) reporting to the Secretary of Agriculture. Thompson is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, a Harvard Law School graduate, and an expert in American Indian law, tribal sovereignty, and rural tribal economic development. With Thompson in place, USDA will return OTR directly under the Secretary, restoring the office’s important government-to-government role.


Most recently, Thompson served a member of the American Indian Law Practice Group at Greenberg Traurig, where she worked on federal Indian law and Tribal agriculture. Thompson has a long record of public service, beginning as a Presidential Management Fellow at the Department of Justice. Since then, Thompson has served as a law clerk with the Attorney General’s Office for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, as Counsel and Policy Advisor to the U.S. Senate’s Democratic Policy Committee, and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for South Dakota’s Indian Country Section, where she prosecuted cases involving violence against women and children.

In the private sector, Thompson was previously a partner at Dentons, where she was one of only a handful of Native American partners at an “AmLaw 100” law firm. In addition, she has served as the Director of Government Affairs for the National Congress of American Indians, President of the South Dakota Indian Country Bar Association, and President of the National Native American Bar Association. Thompson holds a Juris Doctor cum laude from Harvard Law School, as well as a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Florida, and a bachelor’s degree in International Studies from Carnegie Mellon University.


duane wilson

Vice President Stakeholder Relations, Arctic Co-operatives Limited

Duane Wilson joined Arctic Co-operatives Limited in 2008 in the capacity of Vice President of Merchandising & Logistics. Reporting to the CEO, Duane and the rest of the Merchandising & Logistics Division provided management of the procurement, transportation and construction needs of the 32 autonomous community-owned and controlled Co-operatives in northern Canada that own and direct Arctic Co-operatives Limited. In this role Duane became involved in many of the Co-op System’s efforts in the areas of environment, health and nutrition. In 2017, Duane assumed the new role of Vice-President of Stakeholder Relations, which formalizes responsibilities for Marketing & Communications and liaising with government, media, the academic community and other stakeholder groups.


The services of Arctic Co-op include supply and transportation, art marketing, accounting and auditing services, management support, technical support for Cable TV, hotel and fuel delivery operations, point-of sale systems, recruitment and human resource development and Co-op System financing. Key values for the organization include: relationships, accountability, diversity, development and service/support.


Prior to his Arctic Co-op tenure, Duane served in various capacities with Federated Cooperatives Limited, most recently as the General Merchandise Marketing Manager for the Winnipeg Region.


Felipe witchger

Executive Director, Community Purchasing Alliance

Felipe helps actualize organizer-entrepreneurs for new economic praxis. He facilitates collaboration between community institutions for shared operations, facilities management, sustainability, and more equitable community wealth building. By developing leaders and allies, Felipe believes marginalized communities can build the power they need to change institutions, systems, and our culture.

Prior to CPA, Felipe directed a HUD-funded multi-family energy efficiency initiative at Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF). From 2010 to 2012, Felipe worked as the Lead Organizer for Energy and Partnerships at Groundswell. During this time he collaborated with the DC Sustainable Energy Utility and partnered with Metro IAF to design and organize an innovative community energy program that mobilized $5 million in clean energy. Felipe developed his expertise in energy markets as a researcher and consultant on the Climate Change and Clean Energy Team at IHS Markit (formerly Cambridge Energy Research Associates). Felipe holds a bachelor’s degree in Energy Studies and Economics from the University of Notre Dame.

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