Settlement between Native Americans and USDA approved

05/04/2011 06:52 AM
WASHINGTON – U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan on April 28 granted final approval of the historic settlement between Native American farmers and ranchers and the United States Department of Agriculture in a case known as Keepseagle v. Vilsack.

Resolving a nationwide class action lawsuit, the Keepseagle settlement agreement requires the USDA to pay $680 million in damages to thousands of Native Americans, to forgive up to $80 million in outstanding farm loan debt and to improve the farm loan services USDA provides to Native Americans.

“Final approval of the Keepseagle settlement marks the end of an unfortunate chapter in our nation’s history where USDA’s credit discrimination against Native Americans was the norm. Under this settlement, Native American farmers and ranchers will finally receive the compensation and justice they deserve, and we will undertake a process to ensure that the USDA treats Native Americans equally and fairly,” said the lead plaintiffs’ attorney Joseph M. Sellers.
Named plaintiffs Claryca Mandan, of Mandaree, N.D.; and Porter Holder, of Soper, Okla., who attended the fairness hearing, were elated by the court’s official ruling.

“We’ve waited three decades for the USDA to be held accountable to the Native American people. So today is a great day, indeed,” said Mandan. “The changes to USDA’s Farm Loan Program will mean that our children and grandchildren will inherit a system that is far more responsive and fair to Native Americans than the system that hampered our generation of farmers and ranchers.”

The class-action lawsuit was filed more than 11 years ago, on the eve of Thanksgiving 1999. The plaintiffs alleged that since 1981, Native American farmers and ranchers nationwide were denied the same opportunities as white farmers to obtain low-interest rate loans and loan servicing from USDA, causing them hundreds of millions of dollars in economic losses.

The settlement agreement approved by the court represents an extraordinary result for the plaintiffs. The settlement’s $760 million in monetary relief represents about 98 percent of what the plaintiffs could possibly have won at trial, according to an expert report prepared by a former USDA economist for the plaintiffs. All funds for the settlement will be paid from the federal Judgment Fund, which is controlled by the U.S. Department of Justice, and will not have to be approved by Congress.

Now that the settlement agreement has received final approval, Native American farmers and ranchers will have until Dec. 24 to file claims for damages and debt relief. Keepseagle class members will have an option to file individual claims under either Track A or Track B.

Track A permits eligible class members to recover up to $50,000 by providing information under oath that they are Native Americans, that they farmed or ranched (or attempted to farm or ranch) between 1981 and 1999, that they sought a loan or loan servicing from USDA during that period, and that they complained when they were denied a loan or otherwise treated unfavorably.

Track B permits eligible class members to seek an award of damages up to $250,000, with the amount based upon evidence of their actual economic loss. Track B claims must submit evidence that would be admissible in court to satisfy each of the same elements as Track A, and in addition, must identify a similarly situated white farmer who received more favorable treatment.

Starting in July, class counsel will conduct a series of meetings to assist Native American farmers and ranchers with filing claims under Track A. These meetings will occur throughout Indian Country from July through December. Class members are encouraged to retain individual counsel for Track B claims, as far more is involved in preparing a successful Track B claim than a Track A claim. A list of attorneys willing to consider Track B claims will be provided to interested class members. Claims approved by a neutral adjudicator are expected to be paid in the summer of 2012.

Notification of meetings and information on how to file a claim can be found online at or by calling 1-888-233-5506.

Under the settlement, the USDA also will forgive up to $80 million in debt currently held by class members whose claims are approved under Track A or Track B. When the U.S. District Court granted preliminary approval of the settlement in November 2010, that order put into effect a moratorium on foreclosures, debt accelerations and debt offsets not already referred to the U.S. Treasury Department.

The moratorium currently applies to all Native American farmers and ranchers and for those who file Track A or Track B claims the moratorium will last until the claims process has concluded. After the debt relief is provided, if there are any class members with remaining debt, who are delinquent on any outstanding USDA farm loan debt, the USDA will engage in a round of loan servicing of that debt.

The third provision of the settlement agreement calls for the USDA to improve the delivery and responsiveness of its farm loan program to Native American farmers and ranchers. One of the most important provisions is the creation of the Native American Farmer and Rancher Council, a new federal advisory committee. The council will have 15 members, 11 of who will be Native Americans or represent Native American interests and four of who will be top USDA officials.

It will meet at least twice a year for the next five years to discuss how to make USDA’s programs more accessible for Native Americans farmers and ranchers. It will report its recommendations directly to senior UDSA officials.

In addition to establishing the council, the USDA will take the following additional steps to improve its services: create 10 to 15 USDA regional sub-offices that will provide education and technical assistance to Native American farmers and ranchers and their advocates, undertake a systematic review of its farm loan policies to determine how its regulations and policies can be reformed to better assist Native American farmers and ranchers, create a customer guide on applying for credit from the USDA, create the Office of the Ombudsperson to address concerns of all socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and regularly collect and report data on how well Native Americans fare under USDA’s farm loan programs.


11/25/2015 04:00 PM
KESHENA, Wis. – The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin is suing federal Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Justice after federal agents destroyed the tribe’s industrial hemp crop on Oct. 23. “The Menominee Tribe, in cooperation with the College of Menominee Nation, should have the right under the Farm Bill to cultivate industrial hemp in the same manner as Kentucky, Colorado and other states,” Gary Besaw, Menominee chairman, said. “These and other states cultivate industrial hemp without threats or interference from the United States government. In contrast, when our tribe attempted to cultivate industrial hemp we were subjected to armed federal agents who came to our reservation and destroyed our crop. The Department of Justice should recognize the equality of tribes under the Farm Bill, and provide us with the same respect they have demonstrated to states growing industrial hemp for research purposes.” Industrial hemp, which can be grown as a fiber and a seed crop, is used to produce a range of textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics and building materials that are available throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Unlike marijuana, it has no psychoactive effect. Farmers in more than 30 countries around the world cultivate industrial hemp. “This is a straightforward legal issue,” Brendan Johnson, Menominee attorney, said. “The lawsuit focuses on the specific legal question of whether the Farm Bill’s industrial hemp provisions apply to Menominee. We are confident that the provisions do apply to Menominee, that Menominee is authorized under federal law to cultivate industrial hemp consistent with those provisions and that a federal court will read the Farm Bill provisions as we do and require the federal government to recognize Menominee’s rights under federal law to cultivate industrial hemp.”
11/25/2015 01:30 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board will meet at 9 a.m. CDT, Dec. 8, 2015, via conference call. It is an open meeting and the public is welcome to attend by using the conference call information to join the meeting. <a href="" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the agenda. Dial-in: 866-210-1669 Entry code: 4331082
11/25/2015 12:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson will bring his show to The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Jan. 21. Tickets start at $60 and went on sale Nov. 19. According to a Cherokee Nation Entertainment release, Robinson features songs such as “Just to See Her,” “Quiet Storm,” “Cruisin’” and “Being with You.” “The Detroit native has an accomplished 50-year career in music. Robinson founded the critically acclaimed group The Miracles, was instrumental in developing the Motown Records dynasty where he served as vice president for a time, and has more than 4,000 songs to his credit,” the release states. “The hits he has written include ‘The Way You Do the Things You Do,’ ‘My Girl’ and ‘The Tracks of My Tears.’” Robinson has received awards including the Grammy Living Legend and Kennedy Center Honors. “He has also been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame,” the release states. For more information on his tour, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is located off Interstate 44 at exit 240. Ticket prices and information on upcoming shows are available online in The Joint section of <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or by calling (918) 384-ROCK. The Joint box office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
11/25/2015 08:00 AM
WEBBERS FALLS, Okla. – Located in Muskogee County along the Arkansas River is a small town that has survived for more than 180 years. After facing Civil War, fires and floods, it continues with its rich Cherokee history. Named after an Arkansas River waterfall and Walter Webber, a Western Cherokee or Old Settlers leader, the town today has more than 600 residents. “People would say ‘the falls at Webbers’ and eventually it became Webbers Falls,” Troy Wayne Poteete, Webbers Falls Historical Society founder and Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Justice, said. Poteete said when the Cherokees were trying to find a settlement along the Arkansas River, they reached the falls and couldn’t go any further, so they stopped and created Webbers Falls. Moving to Indian Territory before the Trail of Tears, Webber established a trading post, portage service and salt works in 1828. “Webbers Falls, after reading a lot of older newspapers, was supposed to have been one of the nicest, largest towns in Oklahoma, they predicted it to be and it never did make it,” said George Miller, Webbers Falls Historical Society and Webbers Falls Museum president. “I think the maximum amount of people that lived here was probably 700, maybe 800 people.” After the Indian Removal Act, many Cherokees settled in Webbers Falls. “Webbers Falls was home to several prominent Cherokees who fought in the Civil War, served as justices on the Cherokee Supreme Court and were very involved in Cherokee government and politics,” Poteete said. One prominent Cherokee was Joseph “Rich Joe” Vann. A wealthy man, Vann established a cotton plantation in Webbers Falls and built a replica of the mansion he was forced from in Georgia. Vann also established a steamboat business. In 1842, in an attempt to escape Indian Territory to Mexico, nearly 25 slaves of Vann’s and other wealthy Cherokee slave owners revolted and fled with guns and horses. More slaves joined on the way. However, the slaves were pursued and 14 were killed or captured in a conflict that resulted in the pursuers turning back for reinforcements. The other fugitives continued to south. The slaves were recaptured and five were executed for killing two slave catchers in an effort to free a slave family being taken to Choctaw territory. Vann put his surviving slaves to work on his steamboat. Vann later died aboard his steamboat after the boiler exploded. In 1863 during the Civil War, while trying to capture Cherokee Confederate Gen. Stand Watie, who stationed his troops in Webbers Falls, the Union Army burned Vann’s plantation along with most of the town. The town was later rebuilt. “Most of the people here sided with the Confederacy eventually,” Poteete said. “After the Civil War this was designated as the place for Confederate sympathizers and Freedmen. Not many of the freed slaves came here but several Confederate Cherokees who thought they couldn’t live in peace in the other parts of the Cherokee Nation, they moved here and one of them was the last Confederate general to surrender, Stand Watie. After statehood in 1907, Webbers Falls was home to Brewer’s Academy, which was later named Webbers Falls Public School. Brewer’s Academy was named after the Brewer family that resided in town. Oliver Hazard Perry Brewer was born in 1829, attended the Cherokee Male Seminary and married Delia Vann, the daughter of Joseph Vann, in 1856. Brewer was elected to the Cherokee Senate in 1859 and was elected CN superintendent of education in 1871 and 1876. He was selected as Cherokee Board of Education president in 1881, and in 1890, was appointed to the CN Supreme Court. He died in office a year later. His son, Oliver Hazard Perry Brewer Jr., was born in Webbers Falls in 1871 and also attended the Cherokee Male Seminary. He also was elected to the tribe’s Senate and served as CN Board of Education chairman. In 1906, he was a Constitutional Convention delegate. In 1913, Brewer Jr. was appointed postmaster in Muskogee until 1921. He then was elected a Muskogee County judge for three terms, and in 1931 he was appointed by the U.S. government as a CN “chief for a day.” He died in 1951. Another prominent Cherokee in Webbers Falls was Robert T. Hanks, who held several positions in the CN government, including secretary. “Robert T. Hanks was considered to have been the best fiddler in the Cherokee Nation and was the first historian of Webbers Falls,” Poteete said. “He was also a writer. He was a correspondent to the newspapers in Muskogee, in Fort Smith (Arkansas). He published a paper here himself, and until he passed away, he was given to writing letters to the editor taking positions on political issues and they dubbed him Black Fox, sage of the Cherokee.” In 1911, Webbers Falls burned down again and was rebuilt with brick in 1912. Most buildings continue to stand. That same year, the Webbers Falls, Shawnee and Western Railroad began connecting Webbers Falls to Warner, allowing the town to grow and become less dependent on river trade. Throughout the 1920s, the town’s population grew to nearly 500 and a bridge was built across the Arkansas River as a part of Highway 64, which cut through Webbers Falls, allowing traffic and businesses to boom. “All the traffic from Highway 64 came through here and we had five or six Phillips stations and cafes, two grocery stores, two banks,” Miller said. “As the trucks grew, the bridge didn’t and the trucks could not get across so they put a light up and made it a one-way road across, and after the bridge came in the train slowly went away.” In 1943, the town experienced massive flooding in the downtown area causing people to be rescued from rooftops. Miller said what really affected Webbers Falls’ growth was when Interstate 40 was opened because it bypassed the town. “When they got I-40 in they tore the bridge down and built the Highway 100 bridge across, a little further up, but nothing came through Webbers Falls anymore and the town just slowly died until what it is today,” Miller said. In 1971, the Webbers Falls Lock and Dam and Reservoir was created on the Oklahoma portion of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, which provides for barge traffic on the Arkansas River. In 2002, the I-40 bridge collapsed, killing 14 people and injuring 11, after a barge collided with a bridge pier. Although Webbers Falls has experienced growth, tragedy and decline, it still holds the same Cherokee values with which it was created. “People were moving west to continue a Cherokee way of life, and many families that were here before are still here,” Poteete said.
11/24/2015 12:00 PM
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — A court document indicates the woman accused of killing four people and injuring dozens of others after driving through Oklahoma State University's homecoming parade last month had a blood-alcohol content lower than the legal intoxication threshold. The Tulsa World reported Saturday that 25-year-old Adacia Chambers, a Cherokee Nation citizen, was ordered to submit to a blood alcohol test at Stillwater Medical Center following the Oct. 24 crash. A document filed Thursday in Payne County District Court by defense attorney Tony Coleman indicates her blood-alcohol content was 0.01. The legal threshold for intoxication is 0.08. Chambers initially was suspected of driving while under the influence after authorities say she ran a red light and purposely drove around a barricade and over a police motorcycle before crashing into spectators at OSU's homecoming parade. Prosecutors say evidence suggests it was "an intentional act." Prosecutors have not responded to the latest filing. Chambers faces four counts of second-degree murder and 46 counts of assault and battery with means likely to produce death. Killed in the crash were 65-year-old married couple Marvin and Bonnie Stone; 23-year-old University of Central Oklahoma graduate student Nikita Nakal; and 2-year-old Nash Lucas. Chambers is set to reappear in court for a hearing Dec. 10. Information about Chambers' blood alcohol content is contained in a brief supporting Coleman's request for the court to allocate funds so Chambers can afford an expert witness in psychology and accident reconstruction. Coleman said his client is considered indigent based on her income and has a "due process right" to confront the evidence and witnesses against her. He said an expert is required to explain the difference between Chambers' state of mind currently and her state of mind at the time of the crash. An order for competency evaluation states a Payne County Sheriff's Office employee transported Chambers from the county jail to the Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita on Tuesday. Coleman said the results of Chambers' evaluation in Vinita differ from those documented after an evaluation conducted by Edmond-based psychologist Dr. Shawn Roberson at the Payne County Jail on Oct. 26. Roberson wrote in his evaluation, which was retroactively sealed by Judge Louis A. Duel on Nov. 9, that Chambers seemed to be "acutely psychotic" and appeared to suffer from "severe mental illness" that would affect her ability to stand trial.
11/24/2015 10:00 AM
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — An association of the state's newspapers wants a judge to lift a gag order in the murder case against a woman accused of killing four people and injuring dozens during Oklahoma State University's homecoming parade last month. The Oklahoman reports the Oklahoma Press Association is asking the judge in the case against Cherokee Nation citizen Adacia Chambers for permission to intervene and request the gag be lifted. The association, which serves almost every newspaper in Oklahoma, says the court ordered the gag without a proper hearing and evidentiary foundation. Judge Louis A. Duel put the gag in place earlier this month barring lawyers, witnesses, victims and family members from making any statements about the case.