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William (Billy) Haltom’s career helps build the next generation of Native agriculturalists

Although Navarre descendant William (Billy) Haltom did not grow up on a farm, his participation in the 4-H Club and National FFA Organization inspired him to pursue a career in agriculture. Today, Haltom serves as the youth program manager for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Agriculture Youth Program, helping introduce the industry’s vast opportunities to Creek students across northeast Oklahoma.

“Whenever I got in high school, I joined the FFA, and I knew immediately that agriculture is what I wanted to do,” Haltom told the Hownikan during a phone interview.

Every spring and fall, CPN member William (Billy) Haltom looks forward to helping youth prepare their livestock projects for the show ring. (Photo provided)

He received his bachelor’s from Oklahoma State University, and upon graduation, he taught in Oklahoma public schools for 10 years. This experience gave him an even greater appreciation for FFA and 4-H and the potential these organizations can provide, especially to Native Americans.

“If I’ve helped one kid, I feel like I have done well,” Haltom explained. “I’m just tickled to death to be able to give a little guidance.”

Because of Haltom’s lifelong dedication to serving students across Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State FFA gave him an Honorary State FFA Degree in 2018. This degree is the Oklahoma FFA Association’s highest award that distinguishes those who go above and beyond their normal duties to serve FFA members. Haltom considers this recognition as his greatest career accomplishment.

“The benefits from these two programs is just immeasurable, as far as I’m concerned, when we’re talking about training our young people to be better, more productive citizens and community leaders,” Haltom said.

Muscogee (Creek) Ag Youth Program

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation offered Haltom an opportunity to work alongside an Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service agent to oversee the tribe’s MCN Ag Youth Program in 2012. However, the extension agent accepted another job, leaving Haltom the sole employee for some time.

“It was alright with me because it gave me a chance to do a lot of things that I was interested in that I know helped me when I was growing up,” Haltom said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to do what I can to try to help Native kids out.’”

Haltom assists Creek youth with fair competitions, animal husbandry techniques as well as preparing for speech contests and other 4-H and FFA events.

Through the FFA, members complete Supervised Agricultural Experience activities for state and national recognition. Growing up, Haltom’s SAEs included hogs and cattle.

“I was a big steer showman, or so I thought I was anyway,” Haltom said then laughed. As part of his job, he helps students with their livestock projects. In fact, his department’s Livestock Assistance Program can provide each qualifying student up to $500 annually; the only caveat is all the funds must go toward the student’s project.

“If their SAE, for example, is pigs, we’ll give them up to $500 to purchase that animal. Say they bought a $300 pig, they would have $200 they could use for feed,” he explained.

Students can also receive up to $300 toward leadership experiences, which many use to pay their way to FFA Alumni Camp every year. Haltom has seen firsthand the positive impact these scholarships have on Creek youth.

“I’ve never had one kid that didn’t get to go to all the camps that they wanted to go to and used up all their money,” Haltom said.

Since Haltom joined the MCN Ag Youth Program, the number of Creek youth involved in 4-H and FFA increased from around 60 in 2012 to more than 270 today.

“And it just continues to grow,” he said. “It’s amazing the opportunities that are out there for Native youth in agriculture. So many kids nowadays just really need an opportunity, regardless of their social or economic background.”

Typical day

While Haltom offices at Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s tribal headquarters, the nature of his job gives him a chance to travel across northeast Oklahoma to serve Creek youth.

“It’s part of our agreement if we help fund their project, we’re going to come check on it and make sure they’re taking care of the animal,” he said.

Haltom does wellness checks as well as helps students get their livestock prepared for the show ring, which he said “becomes a game of trying to catch kids in eight different counties to clip and feed.”

Although show season can create a hectic schedule, livestock events remain one of his favorite 4-H and FFA activities.

“I’ve always been a livestock person, and to be honest, I have a great job because I think we’re one of the only tribal governments that has this position, period,” he said. “I’m really fortunate to be in a position where I can do not only what I love — as far as livestock, shows and that kind of thing — but to be able to help all the young people. It’s just a really rare opportunity that you get to do something that you just really want to do.”

Legacy

Haltom hopes his career encourages youth to employ hard work to reach their goals, much like his FFA advisors encouraged him.

“There’s nothing more rewarding to see a young person that you’ve seen since they were 12 years old graduate high school, and they’ve got scholarships,” Haltom said. “There’s nothing more rewarding for me than to see that happen — especially to see those who people didn’t really give much of a chance, but all they needed was a little opportunity and maybe a little motivation.”

MCN Ag Youth Program seeks to provide Creek youth with experiences that open their minds to potential as well as the chance to travel and learn more about the world outside of Oklahoma.

“Sometimes they don’t get out of a five county era, and very seldom do they leave the state,” Haltom said. “Every tribe has different problems, and we don’t realize living here in Oklahoma that problems in North or South Dakota aren’t the same problems that we have here.”

Haltom and other Muscogee (Creek) Ag Youth Program staff also see their work as an integral component to increasing tribal sovereignty across Indian Country.

“I think that the key to food sovereignty is getting our young kids involved as Native American agriculturalists, and it is a tribal government’s biggest way to achieve food sovereignty,” Haltom said.

“Every Native tribe in the United States has the opportunity — through agriculture — to achieve tribal sovereignty through being able to feed their own people. But to do that, we have to have Native young people who are interested in agriculture.”

Haltom tries to stay connected to his Citizen Potawatomi heritage by attending Family Reunion Festival, reading the Hownikan, and fellowshipping with fellow Navarre family descendants. As for advice for Native students, especially Citizen Potawatomi, Haltom said, “They need to look at everything with an extremely open mind, and they need to look. It’s hard to beat hard work. If you show me a kid that works hard, I’ll show you one that’s probably going to be successful.”

Learn more about the Muscogee (Creek) Ag Youth Program at cpn.news/mcnagyouth.