Settlement between Native Americans and USDA approved

BY STAFF REPORTS
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 IndianFarmClass.com 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.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
11/21/2014 02:39 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – On Jan. 15, comedian Kevin Nealon will bring his stand-up comedy tour to The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. As one of the longest running cast members on “Saturday Night Live,” Nealon created some of the show’s most memorable characters, including The Subliminal Man, Hans and Franz and a reoccurring role as an anchor on Weekend Update. In 1988, he earned an Emmy Award nomination as part of the “SNL” writing team. Since his time on “SNL,” Nealon has encountered great comic success with an extensive film career starring in films such as “Just Go With it,” “Eight Crazy Nights,” “The Wedding Singer,” “Happy Gilmore,” “You Don’t Mess with The Zohan” and “Blended.” Nealon’s other film credits include “Joe Dirt,” “Daddy Day Care,” “Good Boy,” “Grandma’s Boy” and “Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star.” He starred in the television show “Weeds” until the final season in 2009 and is a sought-after guest star on television shows “Hot In Cleveland,” “Franklin & Bash,” “Monk,” “Fat Actress,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Still Standing.” In 2008, Nealon released his first book, “Yes, You’re Pregnant, But What About Me?” – a comical look at the male perspective of pregnancy. In 2009, he scored his first one-hour, stand-up special, “Kevin Nealon: Now Hear Me Out!” which aired on Showtime. In 2012, he recorded his second Showtime stand-up special, “Whelmed… But Not Overly.” Tickets to the show start at $35 and can be purchased online at <a href="http://www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com" target="_blank">www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com</a> or by calling 918-384-ROCK. For more information on Kevin Nealon, visit <a href="http://www.kevinnealon.com/" target="_blank">kevinnealon.com/</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
11/21/2014 12:18 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – After touring and recording for the past 44 years, ZZ Top will be performing on Jan. 16 at The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers will perform classic hits ranging from “Sharp Dressed Man” to “La Grange” and “Legs” and "Tush" along with “I Gotsta Get Paid” and other new material from “La Futura,” their latest album with producer Rick Rubin. ZZ Top formed in Houston in 1969, becoming an international touring act in the 1970s. Their unique hybrid of dirty blues and hard rock, incorporating new sounds and technology, earned them induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. The band will be releasing a comprehensive greatest hit collection titled “The Baddest of ZZ Top.” They will be sharing bills with Jeff Beck next summer and undertaking a slate of tour dates on their own in the fall. Tickets to the show start at $60 and can be purchased online at www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com or by calling 918-384-ROCK. For more information on the band, visit <a href="http://www.zztop.com" target="_blank">zztop.com</a>.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
11/21/2014 08:40 AM
LOST CITY, Okla. – American flags lined the dirt road leading up the Swimmer Church in rural Lost City on Nov. 11 as veterans and their families came to partake in the church’s annual Veterans Day program. One of the event’s organizers, Pat Martinez, said her late mother, Lora Crittenden, and her mother’s best friend, Juanita Allen, began honoring veterans at the church 25 years ago on Veterans Day. She said her late uncle, Bob Crittenden, was a prisoner of war during World War II, and her mother and Allen thought it would be nice to honor Bob and other veterans in the community on Veterans Day. “So they called and they went to see people and asked people to come to Veterans Night. They made little trinkets and used crate paper (to make decorations). It’s evolved to 25 years later to what it is now,” Martinez said. “We give them something to remember the church and also to remember them being a veteran. We’re proud of this small community coming together and making a difference.” During the program, veterans enter the church after everyone else is seated and are seated in the front. Veterans are presented with certificates and medals and are asked to stand or sit on the stage and tell everyone the military branch in which they served. After the program, which includes a welcome from the pastor and patriotic songs, the veterans walk next door to the church’s fellowship hall for a potluck meal. Martinez said the church’s congregation understands a program and a meal is “not much” to thank the veterans for their willingness to sacrifice themselves to help protect the country. “If you served during peace time or if you were combat, our freedom still depends on men and women like you,” she said during the program. “God bless you veterans and God bless America.” Cherokee veteran Ross Gourd, who lives in the nearby community of Double Springs, served in the Army from 1969-71. He has been coming to the Swimmer Church Veterans Day program for 13 years and appreciates that veterans have a place to get together on their day and enjoy a home-cooked meal. He is a recipient of the Cherokee Warrior Award from the Cherokee Nation. Jimmy Carey of Hulbert served in the Air Force during the Vietnam era from 1966-70. “I did what I had to do to show that my people were supportive of this government. I think it’s the greatest government there is. It’s not perfect, but it’s great, and I wouldn’t want to live anyplace else,” he said. A CN citizen, Carey taught the Cherokee language at Sequoyah High School for 14 years and worked for the Nation for 22 years. He retired from teaching this past spring. It was his first time attending the church’s Veterans Day program and he said he was “impressed.” “This is what can happen when you get to thinking you need to do something. I like it. I really do. I’ll be back next year,” he said. Martinez said 20 to 25 veterans attend the program each year, but as the years pass there are less and less World War II and Korean War veterans. “We hope the younger ones will pick up the torch and come,” she said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
11/19/2014 10:01 AM
WASHINGTON – Photographer Dana Gluckstein is working alongside Amnesty International to honor Native American Heritage Month. In doing so they announced the tour of DIGNITY: Tribes in Transition, an award-winning photography exhibition that honors indigenous peoples worldwide. Exhibition photographs are being shared on social media sites during November. The exhibition will open on Jan. 29 at the Boston University Art Gallery. According to a Boston University College of Fine Arts press release, DIGNITY’s artistry, power and impassioned call to action create a historic exhibition in support of indigenous peoples, who represent six percent of the global population. DIGNITY previously toured in European museums for the past several years. More exhibition dates and locations will be announced soon. To view Gluckstein’s work, visit her Twitter and Instagram @DanaGluckstein.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
11/18/2014 01:52 PM
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Revenue at U.S. casinos jumped more than 6 percent in 2012, the first significant increase in three years as economic growth picked up speed and more casinos opened in several markets. But revenue generated by Indian casinos rose less than 2 percent the same year, Casino City’s North American Gaming Almanac found. Growth is limited due to regulations restricting tribal casino expansion beyond reservations and differences between tribes over how best to expand, said Vin Narayanan, editor-in-chief of Casino City. “There’s a giant political question about that,” he said. Total gambling revenue in 2012 was $94.47 billion, with the largest share, $40.38 billion, from casinos and card rooms. Tribal casinos generated $28.14 billion followed by lotteries ($23.41 billion) and racing and sports gambling ($2.55 billion) in 2012. Casino revenue grew by a fraction of 1 percent in 2011 and 2010 and fell nearly 6 percent in 2009 as the steepest economic downturn since the Depression took hold. Year-to-year revenue changes are vastly different from one state to another. In Ohio, for example, total gambling revenue jumped by one-third from 2011 to 2012 as casino gambling ramped up. But in New Jersey, seventh largest among the states in overall gambling revenue in 2012, casino revenue fell from $3.69 billion in 2009 to $2.71 billion in 2012 as three Atlantic City casinos shut. Nevada, California and New York are the top three states in casino revenue. Narayanan said saturation is the culprit for the decline of Atlantic City’s casinos, but it’s not an issue elsewhere. “Are there too many casinos in the market? As far as Atlantic City is concerned, there are too many casinos on the market,” he said. But casinos opening in Ohio are satisfying “pent-up demand,” he said. Similarly, the legalization of casino gambling in Maryland in 2008 and the opening of the state’s first casino in 2010 generated tremendous revenue. Casino and card room revenue increased from $27.6 million in 2010 to $377.8 million in 2012. Total gambling revenue jumped to $1.15 billion in 2012 from $760.6 million in the same period. “Maryland is a place that’s just taking off,” Narayanan said. The opening of casinos in Massachusetts in the next few years is expected to lead to a significant new source of revenue, possibly at the expense of neighboring Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos. Narayanan questioned if gamblers who check out a Massachusetts casino will still be comfortable traveling to Connecticut’s tribal casinos. “That’s a real good question,” he said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
11/17/2014 03:09 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Phoenix offers a digital alternative to keep in touch with the news and events posted by the Cherokee Phoenix for those on the go who want to stay in the know. The Cherokee Phoenix Weekly is a digital newsletter that’s emailed every Wednesday. It consists of the latest news and feature stories, links to cherokeephoenix.org and space for advertising. The newsletter is also used to notify its subscribers of important breaking news and can be viewed on any mobile device. To subscribe, go to <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeephoenix.org</a> and scroll down to the Cherokee Phoenix Weekly Digital Newsletter section on the right side of the page. To inquire about advertising on the newsletter, email <a href="mailto: phoenix-advertising@cherokee.org">phoenix-advertising@cherokee.org</a>.