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
05/22/2015 01:00 PM
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BY STAFF REPORTS
05/21/2015 02:00 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board will be meeting via conference call at 9 a.m. CDT, June 2, 2015. To attend, please use the conference call information listed below. The meeting agenda is <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/5/9284_150602_EBAgenda.pdf" target="_blank">here</a>. Dial-in: 866-210-1669 Entry code: 4331082
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/21/2015 11:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tulsa Veterans Center is partnering with the Cherokee Nation to create three new combat support groups at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Service Center. To enroll, veterans need to bring a copy of their DD214 or discharge papers that show their combat service. According to a release, the VSC staff understands the issues combat veterans go through and wish to give a safe and private place for these veterans to be around other veterans who can relate to their experiences. The Combat Support Group meets from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. the second and fourth Mondays each month. The Vietnam Combat Support Group meets from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. the first and third Wednesdays each month. The Women’s Combat Support Group meets from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays each month. This group is open to any female who has served in a combat zone. Female combat veterans are encouraged to join other female combat veterans to talk about their experiences and to find others who can relate to your experiences. For more information, call Matthew Tiger at 918-453-5693.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/20/2015 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A wreath ceremony to honor Cherokee veterans will be held at 2 p.m. on May 22 in recognition of Memorial Day at the Cherokee Nation’s Veterans Center and Warrior Memorial located on the Tribal Complex. Those expected to attend include Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, veterans and their families. According to a CN press release, the program includes the raising of the flags and a solo performance by a Cherokee National Youth Choir member. “Cherokees have always honored and revered our warriors,” Crittenden, a U.S. Navy veteran, said. “We invite the public to join us and pay tribute to all the men and women who bravely fought and died for our freedoms.” The release states that there will be a reception and Code Talkers exhibit following the program. The exhibit includes 12 panels of World War I and II memorabilia to recognize soldiers from the Cherokee Nation and other tribes who used their Native languages to relay important military messages in unbreakable codes, the release states. It also features the 2013 Congressional Gold Medal awarded to the tribe in recognition of the dedication and valor of Native American code talkers during WWII, the release states. For more information, call 918-772-4166.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/19/2015 04:00 PM
LOCUST GROVE, Okla. – The Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation recently renovated a park in Locust Grove for children of all ages to enjoy. The $30,000 renovation project helped provide new picnic tables, slides and a swing set for the park located on the corner of Delaware Street and Ross Avenue. “The Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation is constantly looking for project opportunities that not only benefit Cherokee children, but all children in our communities, and taking advantage of this opportunity at Locust Grove was a no-brainer for our group,” HACN Executive Director Gary Cooper said. “This newly restored playground gives the children of the community a safe and fun place to come and just enjoy time in the sun.” The HACN used money from Housing and Urban Development funds for the renovation project. “The Cherokee Nation and the Housing Authority are doing so much to promote healthy families. This play structure will be a place for children to come and have fun while they stay healthy,” Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor said. “I appreciate Principal Chief Bill John Baker and the Housing Authority’s enthusiasm for this project for the Locust Grove community.” CN citizen and Locust Grove resident Amber Buckskin Swarer said the addition is exciting for the community, including her two boys. “We are just so excited to have somewhere we can take our kids,” said Swarer. “Before this, there was not really anything. Now we have something and can get our children outdoors and active, and we don’t have to drive to another town to take advantage of it.” Locust Grove resident Ema Parker said she is thankful the new playground equipment is age-appropriate for toddlers, such as her 13-month-old, Chett. “It’s nice to have somewhere with safe, clean equipment that I can bring my son to so that we can play outside, and I’m so glad they put in the baby swings because there wasn’t much catering to babies before,” said Parker. “I appreciate everything the Cherokee Nation and Housing Authority have done to help out and give the kids a good place to play here in Locust Grove.” For more information on the HACN, visit <a href="http://www.hacn.org" target="_blank">www.hacn.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/19/2015 01:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – People can support the “Remember the Removal” bike ride by purchasing T-shirts that support the ride and the cyclists taking part. Proceeds from the sales of the shirts will help support the riders as they travel 950 miles retracing the Trail of Tears in June. The shirts (adult S-XXXL) cost $15 and are available at the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop Tahlequah and online at CherokeeGiftShop.com. Youth sizes small through large are $10. “Remember the Removal” staff members will be selling the shirts at local events such as the upcoming Strawberry Festival. Currently, 12 CN citizens are training to retrace the northern route of the Trail of Tears through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas before returning to Oklahoma. They will put their bodies to the test as they travel an average of 60 miles a day, mirroring in part the hardships of their Cherokee ancestors who made the same trek on foot 176 years ago. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory from eastern Tennessee and other sites in the old CN, 4,000 died due to exposure, starvation and disease. On the journey, the “Remember the Removal” cyclists visit various gravesites and historic landmarks along the trail, including Blythe Ferry in Tennessee, which was the last piece of Cherokee homeland the ancestors stood on before beginning the trek to Indian Territory, and Mantle Rock in Kentucky, which provided shelter to their ancestors as they waited for the Ohio River to thaw in order to cross safely. The cyclists and staff will leave on June 3 for Cherokee, North Carolina, where they will join up with seven cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The EBCI has been participating in the ride since 2011. The cyclists will begin making their way back from New Echota, Georgia, on June 7 along the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears and arrive in Tahlequah on June 25. For more information, visit RememberTheRemoval.Cherokee.org. The public may follow this year’s journey on <a href="http://www.facebook.com/removal.ride" target="_blank">www.facebook.com/removal.ride</a>.