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
10/30/2014 04:17 PM
NEWNAN, Ga. – The next meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 1 at the Old Newnan train depot. The speaker will be former Georgia TOTA President Jeff Bishop, who will be speaking about the Creek Indians who lived in that area of Georgia. Newnan is located near the McIntosh Reserve named after the famous Creek Headman William McIntosh, born of a Scottish father and Creek mother. The park contains land that was once the primary residence of McIntosh. In February 1825 he signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, which ceded all of the lower Creek land in Georgia to the federal government. The vast majority of Creeks were opposed to the land cession and selling Creek land without the approval of the Creek Council was illegal and punishable by death. In May of 1825 McIntosh was killed in retaliation for his actions. The Trail of Tears Association was created to support the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail established by an act of Congress in 1987. The TOTA is dedicated to identifying and preserving sites associated with the removal of Native Americans from the southeast. The association consists of nine state chapters representing the nine states that the Cherokee, Creek and other tribes traveled through on their way to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The Cherokees were the last to be removed although there were Creek Indians living in north Georgia among the Cherokee at the time of removal in 1838. TOTA meetings are free and open to the public. For more information about the TOTA, visit <a href="http://www.nationaltota.org" target="_blank">www.nationaltota.org</a> or <a href="http://www.gatrailoftears.org" target="_blank">www.gatrailoftears.org</a>. For questions about the November meeting, email Tony Harris at <a href="mailto: harris7627@bellsouth.net">harris7627@bellsouth.net</a>. Directions to the Old Newnan train depot: Take I-85 south and get off at Exit 47. Go west (turn right) towards Newnan – this is Bullsboro Drive (Hwy. 34). Go 4 to 5 miles to Newnan. When you get to Oak Hill cemetery, turn right on Clark and an immediate left on Jackson. Go to Court Square and turn left onto East Broad Street. This will take you to the Historic Depot at 60 East Broad Street.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/30/2014 10:31 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Northeastern State University’s Center for Tribal Studies will have a Halloween event for children of all ages on Oct. 31. The “Halloween Party” will have trick or treating from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. there will be games, refreshments and costume contests. The costume contests will award the scariest, funniest and most original costume. The event is sponsored by NSU Native Student Organizations. The Halloween Party will take place at the Bacone House at 320 Academy St. For more information, call 918-444-4350.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/28/2014 01:34 PM
STILWELL, Okla. – To help with the construction a splash pad, the Cherokee Nation donated nearly $40,000 to the City of Stilwell. “We are all one big community, and it means a lot to us for the Cherokee Nation to work with us on this project,” Stilwell Mayor Ronnie Trentham said. “The things we want to do as a city we couldn’t do alone, so the partnerships between us and the tribe and other groups are needed. We are a better community because we work together.” The splash pad will be located at the Edna M. Carson Stilwell Community Park. City officials expect the project, totaling $464,000, to be completed by May 2015. “Stilwell has always been a hub of Cherokee activity because we have so many citizens living there and working there at our Cherokee Nation Industries facility,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “This represents a good investment for the Cherokee Nation, as it enables the community and its leaders to expand the infrastructure and deliver more offerings for people.”
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
10/27/2014 08:28 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Two Cherokee Nation citizens have produced a 2015 calendar titled “Birds of the Cherokee Nation” that has photographs of area birds and their Cherokee names in the Cherokee syllabary. Jeff Davis, of Warner, and David Cornsilk, of Tahlequah, collaborated on the calendar. Cornsilk researched the Cherokee names for the birds and Davis provided the photographs. Each bird in the calendar can be found in the Cherokee Nation, Davis said. “I take a lot of photographs, and birds are some of my favorite subjects because I descend from the Bird Clan. I thought about doing one initially, and then David approached me about doing one, and we wanted to do it in Cherokee,” Davis, who is also an artist and direct descendant of Principal Chief John Ross, said. “The reason we wanted to do Cherokee is to not only be different, but to also help promote the language and help people learn the language.” Cornsilk said he used to live in Kenwood in Delaware County, which is known for being a traditional Cherokee community, and would listen to the Cherokee speakers there talk about birds and the meaning of the birds’ names. “Something I noticed was a lot of the older speakers they knew a lot of birds’ (names), and the younger speakers didn’t know very many. So it was something, I guess, that was fading out of the language, and so I started collecting the names of birds in Cherokee,” he said. “I always thought I’d publish a book, but then I thought a calendar would be a lot of fun.” He said because Cherokee speakers and others learning the language don’t regularly use the names of birds, plants and animals, the words are in danger of being forgotten. Davis said many Cherokee speakers just use the word jee-squa, which means bird, for every bird. Cornsilk said after he met Davis he learned about Davis’ love of birds and his photographs of local birds. So they decided to work together to produce the calendar. Each bird in the calendar has a Cherokee syllabary and English phonetic name. Each bird photo also has a brief explanation of what the bird means to the Cherokee and other stories about each bird. On the calendar’s back cover is a copy of the Cherokee syllabary to help people translate the bird names and the names of the months in Cherokee listed with the photos. Also included in the calendar is a list of moons associated with each month and what Cherokee beliefs are associated with each moon. Cornsilk credits the list of what the moons meant to Cherokees to William Eubanks, a Cherokee translator in the 1890s. Also, Cherokee linguist Lawrence Panther translated the calendar name. Davis said if the calendar is successful, he and Cornsilk might publish a second calendar next year because he has many more bird photos and Cornsilk, who has been collecting Cherokee names for plants and animals for about 30 years, has more Cherokee names for birds. He added the men have also had requests to do a calendar with plants used by Cherokee people for medicine and may do one with Cherokee names for trees using Davis’ photos. Davis and Cornsilk said they might also produce flash cards with birds, plants and trees. The calendars are available for $10 at the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop and the Spider Gallery in Tahlequah. By mail order, the price is $12.95 each, which includes shipping. PayPal or postal money orders are accepted. For PayPal send payment to: oklaguy67@gmail.com, and to mail payment, send to: J. Davis, P.O. Box 492, Warner OK 74469. “I think our main purpose was to preserve a portion of the Cherokee language that seemed to be fading...to make a contribution to the efforts the tribe is making and individual Cherokees are making as well (to preserve the language),” Cornsilk said. Davis said the response to the calendar has been positive. “People not only love the pictures but also learn how to pronounce the words. I’ve had several mothers tell me that they are teaching their children words from this, which is really what we wanted...something educational and beautiful,” he said.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
10/23/2014 12:45 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The North American Indian Court Judges Association recently honored Cherokee Nation District Court Clerk Kristi Moncooyea for her work with the court. Moncooyea, who received the “Court Support Excellence Award,” has served as the only clerk for the District Court for the past 10 years and is “the amiable face that greets everyone who comes to the Cherokee Nation District Court,” a NAICJA statement reads. “Handling the workload of at least three or four clerks all by herself, she handles the extraordinary caseload with great energy and resourcefulness,” the statement reads. “In addition to maintaining the court’s docket and case files, she answers the phone and patiently deals with attorneys, parties, law enforcement officers, and community members on a daily basis.” Moncooyea, who is a CN citizen, said it is “very humbling” to be recognized by the NAICJA. “I consider it an honor and privilege to work in the Cherokee Nation judicial system providing assistance to our Cherokee citizens as well as the general public who require services of the court,” Moncooyea said. “I share this award with the awesome court staff I work with daily who are always there to assist and help make the courthouse a friendly place to come to.” District Court Judge John T. Cripps said Moncooyea is “a role model and inspiration” for tribal court personnel who are often challenged to do a great deal with very little assistance or resources. “She is always courteous and respectful. I can find no one who does not appreciate her work and her abilities. She is the epitome of what a tribal employee should exemplify,” Cripps said. Moncooyea is the first to receive the “Court Support Excellence Award,” from NAICJA.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
10/22/2014 01:08 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission on Oct. 14 voted to remove two voting precincts and limit the time news reporters can shoot inside precincts during elections to five minutes. Commissioners said a precinct in Cookson was added during the Tribal Council’s redistricting process but never opened as a polling place. Commissioner Shawna Calico said a decision was needed on whether to keep Cookson’s polling place or remove it. She said after some research, voters were going to have to drive either north or south around Lake Tenkiller to vote in Cookson. “So this (Keys) is still the central location, so I say we just leave it at Keys (and remove Cookson),” she said. Commissioner Teresa Hart asked how many voters were located in that area and Calico said there were more voters on the Keys side of Lake Tenkiller than the Cookson side. According to an EC report, Keys has more than 500 voters registered and Cookson had a little more than 150. Calico motioned to remove Cookson’s precinct from Dist. 3 and Commissioner Carolyn Allen seconded it. The motion passed with Calico and Allen voting yes and Hart voting no. EC Commissioner Martha Calico was absent. Commissioners also removed the precinct in Paradise Hill and placed it in Gore. EC Chairman Bill Horton said it would be more feasible for voters. “Probably Gore will encompass more local people than Paradise Hill’s got,” he said. Commissioners then approved the revised precinct map, which is to be printed opposite of the voter registration form. Shawna Calico motioned to remove Cookson and Paradise Hill from the precinct map and add Gore as a location. The changes made to the precinct map passed with a 3-0 vote. The EC also changed a policy regarding media coverage at voting precincts. The change limits media access to five minutes in a precinct. EC officials said the new policy models the state’s voting laws. “We took the Oklahoma statutes and what they do and kind of adopted our situation to allow cameras into the election closure and photograph but limit the time so that they wouldn’t disrupt the voting process,” EC attorney Harvey Chaffin said. The policy amendment passed unanimously. The Cherokee Phoenix requested a copy by-laws and the rules and regulations but they are currently not in their “final form” and will not be submitted or published until then. “The Election Commission Rules and Regulations shall be published and transmitted to the Council no later than 90 days before the first day of filing for the election,” EC Administrator Madison Cornett said. She said the rules and regulations would apply, but do not have to be approved by Tribal Council. The by-laws were expected to be approved at the next regular EC meeting.