Blood Tribe farming training program aims to cut unemployment

The Blood Tribe in southern Alberta is trying to encourage more residents to take up farming.

First Nation teaming up with Lethbridge College for $750,000-project

The Blood Tribe's reserve is the largest in Canada, stretching 1,400 square kilometres across southern Alberta. It's bigger than the cities of Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal combined. (CBC)

The Blood Tribe in southern Alberta is trying to encourage more residents to take up farming.

The reserve encompasses about 142,000 hectares  81,000 of it cultivated land.

But most Blood Tribe farmers live off reserve, while much of the farmland on the Treaty 7 reserve is leased by non-aboriginal farmers.

Now the tribe has teamed up with Lethbridge College to offer an eight-month agricultural program to teach its members how to operate a farm.

"My end goal is to eventually get my farm going ... get myself established,” said program participant Denver Hoof, whose family currently leases out its quarter section of land.

The Blood tribe estimates about $50 million in profits leaves the reserve every year because so few members are trained to run the existing farms.

The Blood Tribe is footing the eight-month program’s cost of about $750,000.

With a 30-per cent unemployment rate on the reserve, employment and skills training director Wayna Beebe says it will be money well spent.

“So looking at options where we can employ large numbers of people on reserve is always a good investment,” she said.

The program has access to a big pool of expertise from both the permit farmers working with the tribe and the college instructors, Beebe says.

“It’s a win-win situation,” she said. “We are 12,000 strong, and we have a huge land base.”

“We anticipate this first group will find a number of different opportunities in different fields and will continue on their own career paths in agriculture.”

The plan is to expand the program to include training in all areas of farm management.

The Blood Tribe, also known as the Kainai Nation, is about 200 kilometres south of Calgary.