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Press Release

Release Date: March 13, 2023
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Janie Hipp understands the importance of bridging divides and working together toward common goals in pursuit of food security. The source of her keen understanding comes from a career which combines her Chickasaw heritage, agriculture background and an innate desire to lend a hand to those in need.

A native of Idabel, Oklahoma, Hipp’s family has been involved in agriculture and education for decades. Her mother and grandmother were public school teachers, and her maternal grandfather operated a tractor dealership in Idabel for many years.

Hipp is the granddaughter of the late Chickasaw citizen Irene Spencer Simms, an original enrollee.

Her father was Thomas Spencer Simms and her uncle, Barry Simms, practiced law in Oklahoma for more than 50 years.

In her role as United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) general counsel, the Chickasaw citizen is committed to enhancing the federal agency’s relationship with all tribal nations.

Hipp, the sole First American to serve as USDA general counsel, said after her July 2021 confirmation that she is honored to be nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the Senate for the position.

She said she will rely on her three-decade career in agriculture law and vast experience while encountering challenges in the role.

The USDA general counsel’s office is tasked with interpreting the law, advising the department as it implements department policies and regulations, and preparing the department to respond to Congressional mandates.

“As general counsel, I am thrilled to be working alongside an entire office of agriculture lawyers. That’s like a dream job for me,” Hipp said. During a 2022 address to Oklahoma tribal leaders, Hipp explained the need for the USDA’s programs to be calibrated for First Americans, as well as her commitment to helping her team improve working relationships with tribes.

Through an equity commission, which has additional agriculture and rural development committees, she said the USDA aims “to look at systemic legal and policy barriers that we have to being in full partnership with you.”

Hipp shared her personal pledge to helping bridge the divide between tribes and the USDA.

“I’m going to do whatever I can inside that building for as long as I’m there to help heal those relationships and create that future, but I need you there with me,” she said.

A lifelong advocate of farmers and ranchers, Hipp understands the historic and current importance of First American people and their contributions to agriculture, as well as the critical need to engage more young women in agriculture.

“All of our peoples have history in food and agriculture and cultivation of crops. It’s a rich and complex history, and part of my work was always in Native agriculture.”

After completing a bachelor’s degree in social work, Hipp worked in the social service field for about a decade when, on a dare, she applied and was accepted to law school at Oklahoma City University.

She later worked in the office of then Oklahoma Attorney General Robert Henry, where she started on the path that defined her career and eventually led to the USDA appointment. She credits Henry for his guidance.

One fateful day, Henry polled his staff, asking who among them was from rural Oklahoma. Hipp raised her hand and was sent to a National Association of Attorneys General Agriculture and Rural Legal Affairs Committee meeting.

The newly formed committee was instituted because of the farm financial crisis in the 1980s that was devastating to the farm belt states, including Oklahoma.

Attending the meeting was life changing for Hipp. The similarity between farmers losing a way of life and Chickasaw Removal history struck a chord.

“I have always had a reverence for anyone involved in agriculture and feeding us. That is my mission in life: to revere, honor and do whatever I can to help them. But I was always struck by the parallel of loss.”

She earned a master’s degree in agriculture and food law from the University of Arkansas.

Hipp’s 35-plus year career in agriculture law and policy includes leading several USDA programs and serving as senior adviser for tribal relations to USDA secretary Tom Vilsack.

She helped established the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas and served as the founding chief executive officer for the Native American Agriculture Fund, the largest philanthropy in Indian Country with a sole purpose of supporting First American farming and ranching and food production.