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
07/30/2015 04:00 PM
LOS ANGELES – Native Voices is seeking short plays that address the many ways a Native American family forms and functions. Native Voices at the Autry is the only Equity theater company devoted exclusively to developing and producing new works for the stage by Native American, Alaska Native and First Nations playwrights. Plays may be a celebration of family life or an examination of complexities and issues in Native families. Alternately, plays may dramatize traditional family stories or family histories. A reading panel of nationally recognized theater artists and community members will evaluate short plays that are related to the family theme. Selected plays will be presented as staged readings on Nov. 8, as part of the Autry’s annual American Indian Arts Marketplace. A panel of celebrity judges will select the 2015 Von Marie Atchley Award for Excellence in Playwriting, a $1,000 cash prize. For more information and submission details, visit <a href="http://www.TheAutry.org/NativeVoices" target="_blank">TheAutry.org/NativeVoices</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/30/2015 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. –The Dream Theatre 312 N. Muskogee Ave., will host the Tribal Film Festival on Sept. 4-5. Film festival officials are calling for “indigenous films with inspiring and uplifting stories that change people’s lives.” The films must be indigenous stories, but filmmakers do not have to be of tribal backgrounds. All videos that are selected will be shown at the red carpet premiere event at the Dream Theatre and the ‘best of’ prizes will also be announced at the event. The winning submissions will also be featured on the TFF’s Facebook page, Twitter newsfeed and in the TFF’s trailer reel, which will play at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill during the 2015 Cherokee National Holiday. According to the TFF’s website, each submission will be eligible for distribution on TribalTV, which is a new broadband channel. Those who are submitting their work must own the content or have the rights to submit the film. Films that contain pornography or ultra-violent material will not be considered. Short films must be less than 20 minutes, which includes the credits. Films that are more that 20 minutes will be entered into the feature film category. The official submission deadline is July 29 with a $20 entry fee. The late submission deadline is Aug. 15 and will cost $30. Digital submissions can be entered at filmfreeway.com and hardcopies can be mailed to P.O. Box 581507 Tulsa, Oklahoma 74158-1507. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.tribalfilmfestival.com" target="_blank">www.tribalfilmfestival.com</a>.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter
07/30/2015 08:00 AM
BRIGGS, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Community and Cultural Outreach has found a way to help CN citizens and local community members learn more about the Cherokee culture with its Cultural Enlightenment Series. The series is held the second Tuesday of each month, and in July it took place at the TRI Community Association W.E.B. Building (Welling, Eldon and Briggs) in Briggs. Those attending watched participants play Cherokee marbles, weave baskets and perform other family and culture-friendly activities. CCO Director Rob Daugherty said this is just one of the many communities his department reaches out to within the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction. “This is one of the buildings that we helped start fund along with other departments of the Cherokee Nation,” he said. “In our jurisdiction area we have several of these building and we work with approximately 38 community buildings that we have. We work with way more communities than that, but this is one of them.” Daugherty, who watched the marble games, said he’s glad the community has taken up the sport. “We’re real proud of this organization here in that they started doing this marbles. (They) picked up one of the old games, and now Cherokee Nation’s coming out here and hosting tournaments,” he said. “The good thing about this game is it doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matte what size you are. It doesn’t matter what level of skill. This is a game that you’re pretty well even starting out. It looks like it’s a games of just haphazardly movements, but there’s a strategy to this game. They’re playing teams, and you can tell among themselves they’re talking where to move, who to hit, where to sit and so forth.” Daugherty said it is also important to use the Cherokee language in the Cultural Enlightenment Series. “Language is really big in my department, so one of the things that I have suggested is no matter what you do incorporate Cherokee language in there,” he said. John Sellers, TRI Community W.E.B. Association president, said he was glad to have the CN come to the building to show community members Cherokee culture. “We attend classes about once a month at the (Cherokee) Nation’s complex and they saw our facilities and they were talking about the old traditional marble games, and we’ve been asking questions about the rules, how you do it. So they come out here to show us and they said, ‘hey, we’ll just have our regular monthly meeting out here and do that,’” he said. “Then, at the same time we got a call and said they had a lady that wanted to do the basket weaving and I said, ‘bring her on.’” Sellers said he is thankful to the CN for all it has done for the community. “I can’t say enough for Cherokee Nation,” he said. “I mean we couldn’t do what we’re doing if it wasn’t for them.” For more information about the Cultural Enlightenment Series, visit <a href="http://www.facebook.com/CNCCO" target="_blank">www.facebook.com/CNCCO</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/29/2015 02:00 PM
KETCHUM, Okla. –The Cherokee Nation recently presented the Native American Association of Ketchum a $57,273 grant to build a park in Ketchum. The park will include two pieces of commercial playground equipment, spring rockers, spinners, swings, teeter-totters and more. The group also plans to add volleyball and basketball courts, as well as a walking trail in the park’s next phase of development. The playground is set to be complete by the end of summer and is located at the corner of Grand Lake Avenue and Amarillo Street. “It means a great deal to partner with the Cherokee Nation because without the tribe there would not be a park in Ketchum,” NAAK President Jerry Taylor said. According to a CN press release, the NAAK is one of several community organizations to receive a grant from the tribe’s Community and Cultural Outreach in 2015. The department awards about 45 grants per year to local organizations that want to make improvements in their communities, helping both Cherokees and non-Cherokees alike. “Helping the town of Ketchum build a family-friendly park is part of the Cherokee Nation’s mission to invest in our citizens and communities,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “This will soon be a beautiful space for children and families to gather and enjoy. I’m proud we are able to improve the quality of life for all citizens in the Ketchum community.” The release states the NAAK was established in 2013 and has been active in the community. In addition to obtaining a grant for the town’s first-ever park, the organization has distributed weatherization kits to citizens in the area and will partner with the CN to do home repairs in the community next month. The organization also hopes to build a community building in the future. For more information about Community and Cultural Outreach, call 918-207-4953.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/29/2015 10:35 AM
WEST SILOAM SPRINGS, Okla. – The 10th annual Blast to the Past Car & Truck Show makes its return to the Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs on Aug. 15. The show is one of the largest car shows in the region. According to a press release, categories consist of classics built between the years 1900-60, 1961-80 and 1981 to present and customs built between 1900-60, 1961-80 and 1981 to present. There are also the Redneck Award, Car Club Attendance Award and Grand Champion. Steve Perry, of Bentonville, Arkansas, took home the first place prize in the 1900-60 classics category for his 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air at the 2014 show. “It’s a great show and one of our favorites every year,” Perry said. “Blast to the Past is one of the larger draw car shows around. There are a lot of great cars for the enthusiasts in the area. The fact that you can go inside to grab a nice lunch and cool off in a beautiful facility also makes it a great time for the family.” There will be cash prizes and trophies awarded for those who place first through third in each category. All participants will also receive a free shirt. “We are excited to bring back Blast to the Past for the 10th consecutive year,” Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs General Manager Tony Nagy said. “This has been a huge event for us. We’ve had so much interest, we just had to bring it back for 2015. We have some exciting things in the works for this year. It’s going to be a great time.” Jeff Johnson, also of Bentonville, won first in the 1961-80 classics category with his 1971 Chevrolet Camaro 228. “Last year was my third time to attend this show. It is one of the best we have in the region. Everyone in the area looks forward to it,” Johnson said. “The setup is fantastic. We like the environment, and it’s a great place to come show off your hobby. The entire show is nicely put together, with a great location and wonderful employees. It’s a whole lot of fun.” Registration and entry into the car show are free. Those who want to register can do so through noon at the casino on Aug. 15. Participants can also fax their registration forms to 918-422-6229. For more information, visit the promotions page on the Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs section of <a href="http://www.cherokeecasino.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeecasino.com</a> or call 1-800-754-4111.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/28/2015 11:36 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In Oklahoma, there is a tax-free weekend in which the state does not require individuals to pay taxes on clothing and shoes. Oklahoma’s sales tax holiday is set for Aug. 7-9. According to the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s website, the annual sales tax holiday will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 7 and end at midnight on Aug. 9. “Retailers are required to participate and may not collect state and local sales or use tax on most footwear and clothing that are sold for less than $100 during the holiday. Clothing is indicated by all “human wearing apparel,” which includes, but not limited to, aprons, belts, coats, underwear and socks. Having to set aside money for clothing, shoes and school supplies can be a burden on some families that might be struggling financially. USA.gov suggests families to look into qualifying for federal programs that may help ease financial burdens, including low-cost meals and affordable health insurance. For more information and answers to common questions on the sales tax holiday, as well as a listing of sales tax exempt items, please visit the OTC website at <a href="http://www.tax.ok.gov" target="_blank">www.tax.ok.gov</a>.