Settlement between Native Americans and USDA approved

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 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.


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10/13/2015 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation on Aug. 31 hired former Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory Jordan as its general counsel. “Ms. Jordan is an employee of the HACN in the position of general counsel,” stated HACN Director Gary Cooper in an email. Cooper stated that Glory Jordan is one of the most-seasoned Cherokee property law attorneys in all of Cherokee Nation. “And her experience with Indian housing issues is unmatched,” he wrote. “Ms. Jordan’s service as general counsel will help sharpen our focus with respect to the vast amount of legal work required to operate the Housing Authority and provide homes and other services to the Cherokee people.” The Cherokee Phoenix requested additional information including Glory Jordan’s salary, when the position was publicly advertised and if other candidates were considered for this position. However, CN officials did not respond as of publication. According to CN Communications, this position has existed under previous directors. Glory Jordan served two consecutive terms beginning in 2007 as Tribal Councilor for Dist. 1. According to the tribe’s Constitution, “All Council members shall be limited to two consecutive elected terms on the Council. All Council members having served two consecutive terms must sit out one term before seeking any seat on the Council.”
10/12/2015 08:30 AM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – After leaving their seats nearly three months ago, former Tribal Councilors Julia Coates, Lee Keener and Cara Cowan Watts are adjusting to civilian life by some seeking employment or falling back to their previous careers. Keener, who is searching for a new job, said he felt privileged to have served as a tribal employee for seven years and a Tribal Councilor for four. “I would still be honored to serve in some capacity for the Cherokee people. I would still like to make a contribution in the future,” he said. “As a Nation, we have much more to accomplish, individually and collectively. Employees know when they see jobs being created for political favors. That is not good for a positive work environment. My hope is that we would hire and promote the most qualified Cherokee.” Coates said she continues to teach as an adjunct instructor while looking for full-time employment. As for Cowan Watts, she has returned to her engineering career and her consulting firm, Cherokee Star. “Which is designed to assist tribes to develop their own hands-on education programs such as the three-hour scholarship workshop I designed and much, much more,” she said. “I have no financial ties to the Cherokee Nation other than the giving of my time and money for my personal community work. I continue to volunteer in my local community with Cherokee organizations and youth.” She said she is focusing on her family and personal life mission of increasing the number of Cherokee Nation citizens and other American Indians in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. “I have renewed my relationship with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and recently been appointed to the Oklahoma Women in STEM board of directors,” Cowan Watts said. She added that she would continue to operate her email lists that include events, job opportunities and scholarship leads. If interested in receiving email from Cowan Watts, email Of the six Tribal Councilors who left their respective seats in August, Janelle Fulbright was appointed to the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors, Jodie Fishinghawk was hired at CNB as a project manager for Community Programs, and Tina Glory Jordan was hired as an attorney for the Housing Authority of Cherokee Nation.
10/09/2015 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Native bull riders and calf ropers to barrel racers will converge Sunday in Tahlequah for the Cherokee Nation All-Indian Rodeo. Bareback Riding World Champion Cody Parker, Professional Bull Rider Zane Cook and World Champion Calf Roper Steve Brickey are just a few who will compete for $20,000 in cash and prizes at the Cherokee County Rodeo Grounds, 16818 S. Muskogee Ave. in Tahlequah. The rodeo starts at 5 p.m. with slack starting at 10 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 11. Admission is free. “The Cherokee Nation All-Indian Rodeo was created as a way to showcase our talented Native cowboys and cowgirls,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “These cowboys and cowgirls will receive much-deserved recognition for their talents while also competing for some beautiful prizes, bragging rights and, of course, the cash. We hope the public comes out to enjoy this new event, as we fully expect it to be a great success.” Cherokee Nation All-Indian Rodeo events will include bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, junior bull riding, mutton bustin, barrel racing, junior barrel racing, breakaway, senior breakaway, junior breakaway, team roping, senior team roping, junior team roping, steer wrestling and calf roping. For more information, contact Diamond Thomison at 918-905-0364 or GV Gulager at 918-772-7701
10/09/2015 08:30 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Former Tribal Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk accepted a position with Cherokee Nation Businesses in late August to be its project manager for Community Programs. According to CNB Communications, Fishinghawk’s hire date was Aug. 24, but prior to accepting the position, Fishinghawk spoke with the Cherokee Phoenix about the job and its duties. The Adair County native said she already had the job-required knowledge needed for the position after her eight years of being a Tribal Councilor. She said she expected to work within tribal communities and with the Cherokee people in those communities, as well as CNB employees. “Which is something that I’ve been doing for a long time as a Tribal Councilor. I think I’m very qualified for this position,” she said. According to the job description, the position is responsible for the coordination of various special programs and will be a liaison between Cherokee Nation, Cherokee Nation Businesses and the 14-county jurisdiction. “The incumbent will be knowledgeable about services and programs offered by Cherokee Nation,” the description states. According to the job description, some skills and experience needed for this position include leadership skills, experience in managing multiple projects, coordinating project, ability to write routine reports and the ability to problem solve. There is also a degree requirement as well as five years experience with five or more years managing projects, the description states. She added that some job duties she was expected to handle included working closely with CNB employees. “I’ve noticed that there is a big disconnect with our employees at CNB and the Cherokee Nation. They know about health care if they’re sick. They know about education if they have a student in college, and they know about housing if they use rental assistance or have a house. But not a lot know about the Nation in general and its programs,” Fishinghawk said. “I’m there to try and fill that disconnect.” According to CNB Communications, the job is a new position that began Oct. 1 and was advertised publicly. Fishinghawk works within the CNB Community Relations under Molly Jarvis, vice president of Marketing and Cultural Tourism. Fishinghawk said she preferred to work in the Tahlequah area rather than Catoosa, where CNB is based, and upon her hiring she was given that option. Prior to her hiring, she said her salary would be comparable to what she made her last year as a Tribal Councilor, approximately $56,000. The Cherokee Phoenix requested an interview with Fishinghawk through CNB Communications after her hire date, but was denied. According to the tribe’s Constitution, “All Council members shall be limited to two consecutive elected terms on the Council. All Council members having served two consecutive terms must sit out one term before seeking any seat on the Council.” Fishinghawk was elected to her first term in 2007 and her second in 2011.
10/08/2015 02:30 PM
AUSTIN, Texas – Operation Enduring Respect is a nonprofit group that takes wounded veterans to college and NFL football games. It’s operated by Cherokee Nation citizen Kevin Phelps. He said since starting the organization he’s taken more then 1,000 veterans to sporting events. “We’re all about healing. Wounds are not only physical, but there are also mental wounds and trauma, and I’m trying to help make a difference in the lives of those who risk their lives,” said Phelps, 58, who serves as the nonprofit’s director of operations. “We’re helping these service members come out of their shell and get back into society.” Phelps was raised in the military life and after seeing the effects of war on people he helped co-start the organization. He’s taking three CN citizens to the Red River Rivalry football game between the universities of Oklahoma sand Texas in Dallas on Oct. 10. Plans are also in the works, according to CN Communications, to take 25 veterans to a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving and perhaps some to the Super Bowl. His family during the years has always kept their Cherokee culture close. Phelps said he loves the fact that he’s Cherokee. “I was raised to have a deep affection for the tribe and culture,” Phelps said. “With this nonprofit I knew I also had the chance to help wounded Cherokee and Native veterans, and so bringing those two together is very rewarding.” U.S. Army veteran Staff Sgt. Marvin Cochran went to Iraq twice and served in Afghanistan. The Tahlequah, Oklahoma, native is one of three Cherokees going to the Red River game with Phelps. According to CN Communications his father, Jim Cochran, a Vietnam veteran, and RC Brashears, a Korean War veteran, are also planning to go. For more information about Operation Enduring Respect, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
10/08/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Communication department released its October events calendar on Oct. 1. Oct. 10 6 p.m. – Cherokee Nation Community & Cultural Outreach will host a free movie night at the Dream Theatre in Tahlequah. Attendees will be treated to Holt Hamilton films “Legends from the Sky” and “More than Frybread.” For more information, contact Kevin Stretch at 918-207-4919 or Oct. 11 5 p.m. – The Cherokee Nation All-Indian Rodeo will be held at the Cherokee County Rodeo Grounds in Tahlequah and will feature bareback, saddle bronc, bull riding, junior bull riding, team roping and much more. Admission is $2, and kids 12 and under get in for free. Oct. 12 6 p.m. – Cherokee Nation Tribal Council meeting at the W.W. Keeler Complex, 17675 S. Muskogee Ave., Tahlequah. For the agenda, visit Oct. 12-15 The Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw will be hosting free activities in connection with Breast Cancer Awareness Week. For more information, contact Neoma Flynn at or Mary Owl at Oct. 13 6 to 8 p.m. – A Cherokee County community meeting hosted by Tribal Councilors Rex Jordan, Joe Byrd and David Walkingstick will be held at the Cherokee County Fairgrounds in Tahlequah. 6 p.m. - Cherokee Nation Community & Cultural Outreach will host a traditional Cherokee foods presentation by Cherokee National Treasure Edith Night at the Osiyo Training Room behind the Restaurant of the Cherokee in Tahlequah. This cultural event will be a guide to hunting, gathering and preparing traditional Cherokee foods such as kanuchi, wishi mushrooms and wild onions. For more information, contact Dawnena Mackey at 918-525-2041 or Oct. 20 6 to 7:30 p.m. – The Cherokee Nation Vinita Health Center will host Bingo Night at the health facility in Vinita as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In addition to bingo, a pumpkin contest will also be held. Oct. 23 8:30 a.m. – Cherokee Nation Sam Hider Health Center will host the second annual Chili Cook-Off at the Jay Community Center. Registration is $10 and proceeds go to the Women’s Health Committee fund for Breast Cancer Awareness. Oct. 27 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. - Cherokee Nation Community & Cultural Outreach will host a Leading Great Meetings class as part of the Community Leadership Series at the Osiyo Training Room behind the Restaurant of the Cherokee in Tahlequah. This capacity and community leadership training will give you the understanding of facilitation styles, participation and creating the perfect agenda. For more information, contact Chris Welch at 918-207-4953 or 5 p.m. – A community meeting hosted by Tribal Councilor Don Garvin for Cherokee Nation citizens of District 4 at Three Rivers Health Center in Muskogee. Principal Chief Bill John Baker will also be in attendance as well as the Cherokee National Youth Choir. Oct. 30 7 p.m. – “Thriller” takes the field as the Sequoyah High School Drama Department will be performing Michael Jackson’s hit song at half time of the football game against Lincoln Christian. For more information, contact Amanda Ray at Oct. 31 7:45 a.m. – Cherokee Nation Wings Program will be hosting the “Nowata Halloween BOO-YAH 5K & Fun Run.” Registration will be at the First Baptist Church in Nowata. For more information, contact Amy DeVore at 918-915-0464 or Cherokee community language classes for fall 2015 also begin in October: • Lost City Community Center on Tuesdays, Oct. 6 – Dec. 8, from 6 to 8 p.m. • Webbers Falls Museum on Mondays, Oct. 5 – Dec. 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. • Tri-County Vo-Tech in Bartlesville on Mondays and Thursday, Oct. 5 – Nov. 5, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. • Elm Tree Baptist Church in Tahlequah on Mondays and Tuesdays, Oct. 6 – Nov. 3, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. • Fairfield Community Building in Stilwell on Tuesday and Thursdays, Oct. 6 – Nov. 5, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. • Lyon Switch Community Building in Bunch on Mondays, Oct. 5 – Dec. 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. • Elm Tree Baptist Church in Tahlequah on Thursdays, Oct. 8 – Dec. 10, from 6 to 8 p.m. • Salina Early Learning Academy on Thursdays, Oct. 8 – Dec. 17, from 5:45 to 7:45 p.m. • Country Baptist Church in Locust Grove on Mondays, Oct. 5 – Dec. 7, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. • Indian Capital Technology Center in Stilwell on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Oct. 20 – Nov. 19, from 6 to 8 p.m. • Housing Authority in Sallisaw on Thursdays, Oct. 8 – Dec. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. • Brushy Community Center in Sallisaw on Tuesdays and Wednesday, Oct. 6 – Nov. 10, from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and 2 to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays. • Rocky Mountain School in Stilwell on Wednesdays and Thursdays, Oct. 7 – Nov. 5, from 4 to 6 p.m. • Briggs Community Building in Tahlequah on Sundays, Oct. 4 – Dec. 6, from 2 to 4 p.m.