Settlement between Native Americans and USDA approved
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.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tahlequah Public Schools Foundation is hosting its 2014 Glow Golf Fall Event on Oct. 30 to raise funds for TPS.
The event is a four-member team golf scramble with teams teeing off at dusk on the city’s course located at 2200 W. Golf Course Road. Registration for begins at 6 p.m.
Sponsorship levels are diamond at $2,500; platinum at $1,000; gold at $500; team at $300 and media at $200. Most packages include four T-shirts, glow golf materials, a flashlight, dinner and drinks.
According to its website, the foundation’s mission is to encourage the local community to support the TPS educational system, secure contributions and distribute funds and equipment for the students’ educational benefit.
The website states the TPSF was organized in 1989 by concerned citizens who believe Tahlequah’s quality of life and economic development are directly related to the quality of its educational system. It is an independent, nonprofit, charitable organization established to assist the school in improving the quality of education in the district. The foundation is separate from TPS but works closely with the school system and administration.
For more information about the golf scramble, call 918-456-3761 or 918-456-1300. Or email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.
WASHINGTON – On Sept. 30, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell convened the fourth meeting of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, formed by executive order of President Obama, to work more collaboratively and effectively with American Indian and Alaska Native leaders to help build and strengthen their communities.
Obama Cabinet secretaries and senior officials participated in discussions focused on several core objectives including reforming the Bureau of Indian Education, promoting sustainable tribal economic development, and supporting sustainable management of Native lands, environments and natural resources. The discussion also included potential additional areas of focus based on consultation with tribal leaders.
The meeting follows the president’s June visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota where he announced new initiatives to expand educational and economic opportunities, which the council oversees and promotes, and Jewell’s 20th visit to Indian Country, where she joined Navajo Nation leaders to announce a $554 million settlement of the tribe’s trust accounting and management lawsuit.
Since 2009, this administration has resolved more than 80 tribal trust settlements with federal-recognized tribes, providing more than $2.5 billion in settlements, in addition to the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement of individual Indian trust claims.
“The landmark Cobell Settlement and resolution of more than 80 other individual tribal trust management lawsuits under President Obama has launched a new chapter in federal trust relations with tribes, reflecting this administration’s continued commitment to strengthening our government-to-government relationship with tribal leaders,” Jewell said. “Today’s meeting of the council is another step toward building upon that relationship by working to better coordinate the resources of the federal government so that tribal nations can more easily cut through red tape and access the tools they need to advance their economic and social goals.”
The council’s subgroup on Indian education highlighted progress to date on the Blueprint for Reform, which was announced via secretarial order in June.
The Blueprint is to restructure and redesign the BIE, transforming the agency from solely a provider of education into a capacity-builder and service-provider to tribes that will operate schools. The redesign will help ensure students attending BIE-funded schools receive a high quality education delivered by tribal governments.
The subgroup on infrastructure and economic development reported on its efforts to increase tribal sovereignty, remove regulatory barriers to development and support Native entrepreneurs.
The Sept. 30 meeting also included updates from the energy subgroup regarding coordination of federal agency efforts to promote energy and energy infrastructure development in Indian Country. The climate change subgroup discussed its efforts to work with tribal leaders to prioritize the major climate change challenges facing Indian Country and help tribal communities combat and minimize the adverse effects.
TEMPE, Ariz. – What does the future hold for Native peoples in an era defined by climate change? How does indigenous knowledge work within the realm of sustainability science? How do these two worlds collide and ultimately benefit native peoples and the earth?
Indigenous scholars, sustainability scientists and tribal leaders were expected to gather from Oct. 6-7 to discuss and debate indigenous sustainability and environmental issues. The Arizona State University “Conference on Indigenous Sustainability: Implications for the Future of Indigenous Peoples and Native Nations” offers an unprecedented opportunity to address some of the most pressing issues facing Indigenous people and the earth today.
Sustainability is a concept that is engrained in the practices of indigenous people throughout the world who have traditionally practiced living in harmony with natural forces, but Native peoples today are also among the most susceptible to environmental degradation.
“Experts agree that indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable populations in the world to climate change. Most indigenous peoples live in areas that are being heavily impacted by climate change and forms of development including timber harvesting and mining that are quite damaging to the natural environment,” Rebecca Tsosie, ASU Regent’s professor in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said.
Conference participants will discuss indigenous knowledge and how it is expressed in different parts of the world, said Donald Fixico, ASU distinguished foundation professor of history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“We’ll look at how indigenous knowledge has enabled Native peoples to thrive in a comparative discourse with western thinking and western scientists, while both intellectual approaches face similar sustainability issues that involve preserving and renewing natural resources,” Fixico said.
Conference participants will discuss and debate topics such as “The Future of Sustainability, Educating the Next Generation;” “Sustaining Indigenous Knowledge and Culture;” “Entrepreneurship and Economic Sustainability;” “Sustaining Inherent Tribal Self-Governance;” and “Tribal Energy and the Environment.”
“We look forward to engaging in this historic dialog at ASU while we look toward the future of sustainability studies and educating our next generation of leaders who will serve as stewards of the planet,” said Gary Dirks, ASU professor of practice and director of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and ASU LightWorks.
The conference is sponsored by the ASU President’s Office of American Indian Initiatives and supported by the ASU Office of the Provost. For more information, go to https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org or Justin.email@example.com.
HARDIN, Mont. (AP) – A Montana town that once offered to take in suspected terrorists from Guantanamo Bay out of desperation to fill an empty, $27 million jail has finally started to fill its cells with American Indian inmates from across the Northern Plains.
The Two Rivers Regional Detention Facility in Hardin was built in 2007 on hopes it would boost an economically depressed area of southeast Montana bordering the Crow Indian Reservation.
But it suffered a series of failures after Montana prison officials said the jail wouldn’t suit their needs. Hardin officials in 2009 sought unsuccessfully to take in detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They later partnered with a California con man, Michael Hilton, who promised to turn the jail into a paramilitary training site until his criminal background was revealed by The Associated Press and other news organizations.
Now local officials said they at last have found a legitimate and reliable operator for the 464-bed jail in Emerald Correctional Management, a Louisiana-based private corrections company.
Warden Ken Keller says Two Rivers has taken in almost 60 inmates in recent weeks from American Indian reservations in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. Most are serving time for alcohol or drug crimes and must go through an intensive rehabilitation program in Hardin, Keller said.
As Keller showed an Associated Press reporter around the jail this week, guards wearing patches with Emerald's green logo patrolled the halls.
Inmates clothed in orange were locked into 8- and 24-bed dorm rooms watching television, playing board games and sleeping as they waited for their next therapy session to begin. Others were seen working in the kitchen and being processed in the jail's intake area.
“Everybody always said it wasn’t going to happen,” Keller said. “It’s happening.”
Yet the latest turn for Two Rivers has raised a new concern for at least one tribal leader: Huge distances separate Hardin from the reservations and will make it difficult for family of inmates to visit.
After the jail’s prior setbacks, Emerald representatives cast a wide net in the search for inmates. They delivered what Hardin had long sought: A contract with a government agency, in this case the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, which should provide a steady flow of inmates potentially for years to come.
The federal agency is paying about $70 per inmate per day, and it anticipates placing 80 to 100 inmates at Hardin at any given time, agency spokeswoman Nedra Darling said.
For now, all the revenue the jail brings in will go to Emerald and to pay off the $27 million in bonds that paid for its construction.
Eventually, Hardin stands to receive 50-cents per inmate, per day, said Jon Matovich, who chairs Hardin’s economic development authority, which owns the jail.
Matovich and other town officials said that doesn’t account for the 50 jobs created so far with the jail’s belated opening. That could reach 150 workers if the jail ever reaches full capacity, according to Emerald.
“All the Gitmo and Michael Hilton stuff was kind of a black eye in the way those things turned out, but it’s all good now,” Matovich said.
Keller said Emerald is talking with law enforcement across the region as it looks to fill the jail’s remaining space.
The drug and alcohol treatment provided by Emerald is unavailable in BIA-managed jails, Darling said, and inmates are sent to Hardin only with the agreement of tribal leadership.
However, Blackfeet Nation Chairman Harry Barnes said federal officials gave him only three days’ notice before relocating inmates from an outdated jail on his northwestern Montana reservation to Hardin, 380 miles away.
“They should have consulted us beforehand,” Barnes said. “They showed up on a Friday and said they were going to tear the jail down Monday. ...We were only in a position to listen, but we had some concerns with people going all the way to Hardin.”
Barnes said that could present a hardship for family of inmates who can’t afford the journey.
The BIA is working to provide video conferencing or other means for distant family members to communicate with inmates, Darling said. Regarding consultations with tribes, she said agency representatives spoke with Barnes and other member of the Blackfeet tribal council before moving inmates to Hardin.
Darling said the agency would listen to any concerns raised by the tribe and follow up as needed.
Beyond its agreement with the BIA, Emerald has a separate deal with North Dakota’s Three Affiliated Tribes. Drug and alcohol addiction has spiked in recent years on the reservation near Newtown, North Dakota, fueled by the easy money being generated by an oil boom in the surrounding Bakken region.
“We are in the middle of a heroin and meth epidemic. It’s killing everybody, including our kids,” said Bruce Gillette, who directs a drug treatment program for the Three Affiliated Tribes. “We’ve sent people to other treatment facilities but there are no locked doors so they can literally walk out of get kicked out ... From where I’m at, only God could have sent those guys from Hardin to me.”
CATOOSA, Okla. –Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals will be at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa on Dec. 29. The show kicks off at 8 p.m.
In 1965, Cavaliere created the group Young Rascals, which later went on to be The Rascals. The Rascals hits include “Good Lovin’,” “Groovin’,” “A Beautiful Morning,” “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “People Got to Be Free” and “A Girl Like You.”
The group later disbanded in 1972. This is when Cavaliere’s solo career took flight. He has since released albums “Destiny,” “Castles in the Air,” “Dreams in Motion” and more.
For more information, visit <a href="http://www. felixcavalieremusic.com" target="_blank">felixcavalieremusic.com</a>.
Tickets start at $35 and are on sale. Ticket prices and information on upcoming shows can be found under The Joint section at <a href="http://www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com" target="_blank">hardrockcasinotulsa.com</a> or by calling 918-384-ROCK. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa is located off Interstate 44 at exit 240. All who attend must be 21 years of age or older.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Trail of Tears Association, Memphis and National Park Service officials gathered Oct. 7 with TOTA members to dedicate a Trail of Tears marker on the east bank of the Mississippi River.
The NPS marker tells the story of how Cherokee people were moved from their homelands by riverboats in 1838 following the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830. It also provides information about the Indian Removal Policy and the land trails used by Cherokee people to reach Indian Territory during the removal.
The marker dedication was part of the TOTA’s annual convention held Oct. 7-9 in Memphis.
TOTA President and Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Jack Baker thanked the NPS for “fast tracking” the placement of the marker.
“I think it’s significant that we remember the water route because so much of our work is done on the land route and marking sites along the land route that we tend to forget there was a water route. We forget the three (Cherokee) detachments that were sent west almost immediately after the roundups. One of the detachments had 145 deaths on the way,” Baker said.
He said some of his ancestors used the water route to go to Indian Territory, one of who died.
Baker said Principal Chief John Ross came through Memphis on a boat and three or four days after passing Memphis his wife Quatie died near Little Rock, Arkansas.
TOTA Director Graydon Swisher said Memphis is known as a bluff city, which made it an ideal landing spot for boat traffic on the Mississippi River.
“This is Chickasaw territory. We’ve got a lot of history here in Memphis. The Bell Route (Cherokee) came through Memphis. It was a land route and it came in...where the Wolf River came in,” Swisher said. “We are working on a land route marker just like this one to be put up there some time in the next year or so. Because the convention was here, we were able to make some things happen.”
[BLOCKQUOTE]Swisher said other signage has been placed around Memphis to commemorate and mark events that took place during the forced removal of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee Creek and Choctaw in the 1830s. The Seminoles, who were moved to Indian Territory from Florida, were moved by ship across the Gulf Coast and up the Mississippi for part of their journey.
NPS National Trails Superintendent Aaron Mahr said Swisher played an important role in this year’s conference and for getting the Trail of Tears marker placed along the river.
“This is (a) particularly exciting development here. This is in an urban area. It’s highly visited by families, by all sorts of groups, by ethnically diverse groups who come here and see this on a daily basis. It’s really important that we have that ability to reach so many people,” Mahr said. “You can’t really understand the trail unless you come to Memphis, unless you come to Tahlequah, unless you come to Cherokee, North Carolina. Tying all of these together – these urban areas, these rural areas – that’s what the trail experience is all about, so having this development here in Memphis is particularly important for us. It just raises awareness of the trail that much more.”
The TOTA – made up of nine state chapters from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia – met for the first time in Memphis.
TOTA Executive Director and CN Supreme Court Justice Troy Wayne Poteete said the annual meetings are held in part “to encourage scholarship” about the Indian removals among its members.
“It encourages the scholars and professional historians who study our history to continue in that vein and to share their work, and it provides an opportunity for the enthusiasts, the people who study the trail, who work on marking it, to come together and hear those scholars, to interact with them, to hear about their research,” Poteete said. “It also raises public awareness of the removal story in whatever community we go to.”
He said the association does not study and share the Trail of Tears story so that the Cherokee and other tribes who were affected by the forced removals can be seen as “victims.”
“We work on marking this route and talking about this history because it gives us the opportunity to honor their resilience because they persevered. They overcame those hardships and rebuilt the Cherokee Nation. It gives us an opportunity to say, ‘their endurance wasn’t in vain; we’re still here. We’re a viable people,’” Poteete said.
There are around 600 TOTA members, Poteete said, with about 125 to 175 members who attend the annual conference. He expects close to 175 attendees at next year’s 20th annual conference in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Also, at the TOTA conferences participants get acquainted with the NPS and the services they provide to aid the TOTA in carrying out the Congressional mandate, Poteete said.
“The Trail of Tears Association backs up their efforts to carry out the Congressional mandate to mark the trail. A lot of times we look on like they’re helping us, but we’re helping them do what Congress said to do,” he said. “Congress is able to give relatively small amounts of money to the Park Service. Through the volunteer efforts of people in the association, we leverage that funding to get a lot more trail marked than if they (NPS) had to do the research themselves, and if they had to have the personnel to interact with the local officials to make arrangements for the signs to go up.”
For more information about the TOTA, call 501-666-9032 or visit <a href="http://www.nationaltota.org" target="_blank">www.nationaltota.org</a>.