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
12/06/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials will attend area Christmas parades with floats during the holiday season. At 6 p.m. on Dec. 9, the CN will have a float in the Christmas Parade of Lights in Tahlequah. The tribe will also have a float in Catoosa’s Christmas Parade, which begins at 2 p.m. on Dec. 10. The tribe will also have a float in the Christmas Parade in Jay, which begins at 2 p.m. on Dec. 10, as well as the Christmas Parade in Hulbert, which begins at 6 p.m. on Dec. 10. Finishing out the holiday parade season, the CN officials will have a float in the Christmas Parade of Sallisaw, which begins at 6 p.m. on Dec. 10.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham
12/06/2016 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After several years of same-day lightings, the Cherokee Nation and Northeastern State University held their holidays “Lights On” ceremonies on separate days. On Dec. 2, CN officials turned on the tribe’s lights at approximatley 6:30 p.m. at the Cherokee Courthouse Square. “We’re preparing to actually begin our Christmas season here at the historic courthouse of the Cherokee Nation with a lighting ceremony that’s going to take place with all the Christmas lights and decorations.” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said. “We’re getting into the Christmas season. That time when we remember the birth of Christ and we celebrate his birthday.” The CN event included a live Nativity scene as well as corn shuck doll making, a mailbox for letters to Santa, the story of the first Christmas, refreshments and caroling from the Cherokee National Youth Choir. NSU held its lighting ceremony on Nov. 29 at Seminary Hall. NSU President Steve Turner said the tribe and university held the lighting ceremonies on different days to make it easier for people to see both events. He said in past years those attending the first lighting would have to rush off to see the second event. Turner said the separate events did not diminish the strong ties between NSU and CN. “Tonight we’re having the 24th annual ‘Lights On’ ceremony on campus here at Tahlequah in front of this iconic building, Seminary Hall. And you couldn’t ask for a more dynamic, panoramic place to host this event because of the contributions that were made some 127 and a half years ago by the Cherokee Nation,” he said. According to NSUOK.edu, work began on the original female and male seminaries after the passage of an 1849 act by the CN that created institutions for secondary education for young women and men. In 1887, a fire destroyed the Female Seminary, which was located where the Cherokee Heritage Center stands today in Park Hill. The seminary was rebuilt at the NSU’s current location in 1889 and is now one of several buildings on campus.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/05/2016 04:00 PM
WASHINGTON – The National Indian Gaming Commission on Nov. 30 announced its first Technology Leaders Fellowship opportunity to support tribal economic development, self-sufficiency and strong tribal governments. According to a NIGC release, NIGC officials said they see the importance of leadership in Indian Country year-round and have created the fellowship to help cultivate future leaders in Indian gaming. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act mandates that the NIGC support tribal economic development, self-sufficiency and strong tribal governments. “In keeping with the mission of IGRA, as well as promoting our initiative of staying ahead of the technology curve, the NIGC is proud to offer this fellowship as a one-year apprenticeship-type opportunity for recent graduates in the fields of technology and who are interested in Indian gaming,” the release states. According to the release, the Technology Leaders Fellow will assist and collaborate with NIGC technology staff on a variety of special projects. It also states that the fellowship was developed based on conversations with tribal leaders about the important role technology plays, and will continue to play in the tribal gaming industry. From those conversations, the release states, the NIGC designed a program with the purpose of helping to foster technological expertise specific to tribal gaming. “In this growing industry it is necessary to train the best and brightest in gaming technology serving Indian gaming. This fellowship supports our initiative of staying ahead of the technology curve by giving hands on training to recent graduates that can be taken back into Indian Country and Indian gaming. NIGC Chairman Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri said. To learn more about the Technology Leaders Fellowship requirements, go to <a href="http://www.nigc.gov/utility/nigc-employment-opportunity-technology-leaders-fellowship" target="_blank">http://www.nigc.gov/utility/nigc-employment-opportunity-technology-leaders-fellowship</a>.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/05/2016 10:30 AM
CANNON BALL, N.D. (AP) — Protesters celebrated a major victory in their push to reroute the Dakota Access oil pipeline away from a tribal water source but pledged to remain camped on federal land in North Dakota anyway, despite Monday's government deadline to leave. Hundreds of people at the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, encampment cheered and chanted "mni wichoni" — "water is life" in Lakota Sioux — after the Army Corps of Engineers refused Sunday to grant the company permission to extend the pipeline beneath a Missouri River reservoir. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its supporters argue that extending the project beneath Lake Oahe would threaten the tribe's water source and cultural sites. The segment is the last major sticking point for the four-state, $3.8 billion project. "The whole world is watching," said Miles Allard, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux. "I'm telling all our people to stand up and not to leave until this is over." Despite the deadline, authorities say they won't forcibly remove the protesters. The company constructing the pipeline, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, released a statement Sunday night slamming the Army Corps' decision as politically motivated and alleging that President Barack Obama's administration was determined to delay the matter until he leaves office. "The White House's directive today to the Corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency," the company said. President-elect Donald Trump, a pipeline supporter, will take office in January, although it wasn't immediately clear what steps his administration would be able to take to reverse the Army Corps' latest decision or how quickly that could happen. That uncertainty, Allard said, is part of the reason the protesters won't leave. "We don't know what Trump is going to do," Allard said. Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said in a news release that her decision was based on the need to consider alternative routes for the pipeline's crossing. Her full decision doesn't rule out that it could cross under the reservoir or north of Bismarck. "Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it's clear that there's more work to do," Darcy said. "The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing." North Dakota's leaders criticized the decision, with Gov. Jack Dalrymple calling it a "serious mistake" that "prolongs the dangerous situation" of having several hundred protesters who are camped out on federal land during cold, wintry weather. U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer said it's a "very chilling signal" for the future of infrastructure in the United States. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Sunday that the Department of Justice will "continue to monitor the situation" and stands "ready to provide resources to help all those who can play a constructive role in easing tensions." "The safety of everyone in the area — law enforcement officers, residents and protesters alike — continues to be our foremost concern," she added. Carla Youngbear of the Meskwaki Potawatomi tribe made her third trip from central Kansas to be at the protest site. "I have grandchildren, and I'm going to have great grandchildren," she said. "They need water. Water is why I'm here." Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault didn't respond to messages seeking comment. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, whose department has done much of the policing for the protests, said that "local law enforcement does not have an opinion" on the easement and that his department will continue to "enforce the law." U.S. Secretary for the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement that the Corps' "thoughtful approach ... ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts." Earlier Sunday, an organizer with Veterans Stand for Standing Rock said tribal elders had asked the military veterans not to have confrontations with law enforcement officials, adding the group is there to help out those who've dug in against the project. About 250 veterans gathered about a mile from the main camp for a meeting with organizer Wes Clark Jr., the son of former Democratic presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark. The group had said about 2,000 veterans were coming, but it wasn't clear how many actually arrived. "We have been asked by the elders not to do direct action," Wes Clark Jr. said. He added that the National Guard and law enforcement have armored vehicles and are armed, warning: "If we come forward, they will attack us." Instead, he told the veterans, "If you see someone who needs help, help them out." Some veterans will take part in a prayer ceremony Monday, during which they'll apologize for historical detrimental conduct by the military toward Native Americans and ask for forgiveness, Clark said. He also called the veterans' presence "about right and wrong and peace and love." Authorities moved a blockade from the north end of the Backwater Bridge with the conditions that protesters stay south of it and come there only if there is a prearranged meeting. Authorities also asked protesters not to remove barriers on the bridge, which they have said was damaged in the late October conflict that led to several people being hurt, including a serious arm injury. "That heavy presence is gone now and I really hope in this de-escalation they'll see that, and in good faith . the leadership in those camps will start squashing the violent factions," Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said in a statement, reiterating that any violation will "will result in their arrest." Steven Perry, a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran who's a member of the Little Traverse Bay band of Odawa Indians in Michigan, spoke of one of the protesters' main concerns: that the pipeline could pollute drinking water. "This is not just a native issue," he said, "This is an issue for everyone.”
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/05/2016 09:30 AM
CANNON BALL, N.D. (AP) The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Sunday that it won't grant an easement for the Dakota Access oil pipeline in southern North Dakota, handing a victory to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its supporters, who argued the project would threaten the tribe's water source and cultural sites. North Dakota's leaders criticized the decision, with Gov. Jack Dalrymple calling it a "serious mistake" that "prolongs the dangerous situation" of having several hundred protesters who are camped out on federal land during cold, wintry weather. U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer said it's a "very chilling signal" for the future of infrastructure in the United States. The four-state, $3.8 billion project is largely complete except for the now-blocked segment underneath Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir. Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said in a news release that her decision was based on the need to "explore alternate routes" for the pipeline's crossing. Her full decision doesn't rule out that it could cross under the reservoir or north of Bismarck. "Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it's clear that there's more work to do," Darcy said. "The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing." The company constructing the pipeline, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, released a statement Sunday night slamming the decision as politically motivated and alleging that President Obama's administration was determined to delay the matter until he leaves office. "The White House's directive today to the Corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency," the company said. President-elect Donald Trump, a pipeline supporter, will take office in January, although it wasn't immediately clear what steps his administration would be able to take to reverse the Army Corps' latest decision or how quickly that could happen. The decision came a day before the government's deadline for the several hundred people at the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, encampment to leave the federal land. But demonstrators say they're prepared to stay, and authorities say they won't forcibly remove them. As the news spread Sunday, cheers and cheers and chants of "mni wichoni" â?? "water is life" in Lakota Sioux â?? broke out among the protesters. Some in the crowd banged drums. Miles Allard, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, said he was pleased but remained cautious, saying, "We don't know what Trump is going to do." "The whole world is watching," Allard added. "I'm telling all our people to stand up and not to leave until this is over." Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Sunday that the Department of Justice will "continue to monitor the situation" and stands "ready to provide resources to help all those who can play a constructive role in easing tensions." "The safety of everyone in the area - law enforcement officers, residents and protesters alike - continues to be our foremost concern," she added. Carla Youngbear of the Meskwaki Potawatomi tribe made her third trip from central Kansas to be at the protest site. "I have grandchildren, and I'm going to have great grandchildren," she said. "They need water. Water is why I'm here." Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault didn't immediately respond to messages left seeking comment. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, whose department has done much of the policing for the protests, said that "local law enforcement does not have an opinion" on the easement and that his department will continue to "enforce the law." U.S. Secretary for the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement that the Corps' "thoughtful approach ... ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts." Earlier Sunday, an organizer with Veterans Stand for Standing Rock said tribal elders had asked the military veterans not to have confrontations with law enforcement officials, adding the group is there to help out those who've dug in against the project. About 250 veterans gathered about a mile from the main camp for a meeting with organizer Wes Clark Jr., the son of former Democratic presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark. The group had said about 2,000 veterans were coming, but it wasn't clear how many actually arrived. "We have been asked by the elders not to do direct action," Wes Clark Jr. said. He added that the National Guard and law enforcement have armored vehicles and are armed, warning: "If we come forward, they will attack us." Instead, he told the veterans, "If you see someone who needs help, help them out." Authorities moved a blockade from the north end of the Backwater Bridge with the conditions that protesters stay south of it and come there only if there is a prearranged meeting. Authorities also asked protesters not to remove barriers on the bridge, which they have said was damaged in the late October conflict that led to several people being hurt, including a serious arm injury. "That heavy presence is gone now and I really hope in this de-escalation they'll see that, and in good faith . the leadership in those camps will start squashing the violent factions," Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said in a statement, reiterating that any violation will "will result in their arrest." Veterans Stand for Standing Rock's GoFundMe.com page had raised more than $1 million of its $1.2 million goal by Sunday â?? money due to go toward food, transportation and supplies. Cars waiting to get into the camp Sunday afternoon were backed up for more than a half-mile. "People are fighting for something, and I thought they could use my help," said Navy veteran and Harvard graduate student Art Grayson. The 29-year-old from Cambridge, Massachusetts, flew the first leg of the journey, then rode from Bismarck in the back of a pickup truck. He has finals this week, but told professors, "I'll see you when I get back." Steven Perry, a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran who's a member of the Little Traverse Bay band of Odawa Indians in Michigan, spoke of one of the protesters' main concerns: that the pipeline could pollute drinking water. "This is not just a native issue," he said, "This is an issue for everyone." Art Woodson and two other veterans drove 17 hours straight from Flint, Michigan, a city whose lead-tainted water crisis parallels with the tribe's fight over water, he said. "We know in Flint that water is in dire need," the 49-year-old disabled Gulf War Army veteran said. "In North Dakota, they're trying to force pipes on people. We're trying to get pipes in Flint for safe water." Some veterans will take part in a prayer ceremony Monday, during which they'll apologize for historical detrimental conduct by the military toward Native Americans and ask for forgiveness, Clark said. He also called the veterans' presence "about right and wrong and peace and love.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/04/2016 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Phoenix is seeking citizens of the Cherokee Nation, United Keetoowah Band and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to submit design ideas for its 2017 Cherokee National Holiday T-shirt. For its initial 2016 T-shirt design, the Cherokee Phoenix used CN citizen Buffalo Gouge’s design that Gouge said was inspired by the original Cherokee Phoenix logo with modern modifications. On the 2016 shirt, a phoenix rises from the fire and the seven Cherokee clans are featured behind the bird. The Cherokee Phoenix banner is between the bird’s wingspan, and above the banner are seven stars also representing the clans. The Cherokee Phoenix printed 200 T-shirts and sold them at its office and Cherokee National Holiday booths during the Labor Day weekend event. Shirts went on sale to the public on Sept. 2 and sold out on Sept. 3. Assistant Editor Travis Snell said the Cherokee Phoenix would like to choose a different Cherokee artist each year to design the news organization’s holiday T-shirt. Snell said he initially thought of Gouge and approached him to be the first artist to bring the idea to life. “I’m thankful to be the first artist to do this. I mean this, this will be here forever,” Gouge said. Snell said after contracting with Gouge, Cherokee Phoenix staff members gave Gouge an idea of what they wanted the design to represent as well as the freedom to create. After several meetings with staff members regarding the shirt’s look, Gouge’s design came to fruition. “I think Buffalo did an excellent job creating the design for our 2016 holiday shirt. It sparked a lot of buzz before they even went on sale during the Cherokee National Holiday,” Snell said. “Now we are looking for that next great design from a Cherokee artist. Hopefully we can expand the number of shirts we print next year for the holiday because Buffalo’s design sold quickly.” Former Miss Cherokee Kristen Thomas said she loved the artwork instantly when she saw online photos of the T-shirts before they went on sale. “It’s a beautiful design, and I really enjoy the colors,” she said. “The phoenix represents continuation and renewal, and for me that’s what the Cherokee National Holiday celebrates. I think I just found my new favorite T-shirt.” Those interested in submitting a design idea can email the idea and an estimated commission fee to <a href="mailto: travis-snell@cherokee.org">travis-snell@cherokee.org</a> by Jan. 1. The Cherokee Phoenix retains all rights to the design. For more information, call 918-453-5358.