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
08/29/2014 04:09 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix will be selling subscriptions and merchandise Sat. Aug. 30, 2014 during the 62nd Annual Cherokee National Holiday. Come visit with staff members from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Courthouse Square and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. inside the Cherokee Nation Tribal Complex during it's annual open house. Scroll through the photos to see when and where each staff member will be.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/29/2014 02:12 PM
In this month's issue: • Hard Rock Cherokee Tower under revamp • Cherokee Phoenix wins awards at NAJA conference • Tribe requests IHS help to build Tahlequah hospital • Watt strives to enlighten others with his artwork ...and much more. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2014/8/8483_2014-09-01.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a> to read this month's issue.
BY JAMI MURPHY
08/29/2014 01:20 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During the Cherokee National Holiday weekend, Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses officials unveiled plans to build the Cherokee Springs Plaza, a travel destination that will include venues for dining, shopping and gaming. An artist’s rendering shows the complex including retail spaces, restaurant sites, auto sales lots, office spaces, a convention center, two hotels and a casino. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said purchasing the former Cherry Springs Golf Course property and the vacant land parallel to Highway 62 was a business decision of CNB “knowing that anytime they do anything it’s first class.” “It was the largest contiguous piece of property left in the capitol of the Cherokee Nation, and they’ve been on the drawing board for almost a year now with some of the best land developers in the country coming up with their plan to make this a showpiece in not only all of Indian Country, but I think it’s going to be a showplace for Oklahoma,” Baker said. [BLOCKQUOTE]The approximate 150 acres will bring more traffic to Tahlequah and more attention to the CN, he said. “Just be an awesome, awesome development for this part of Oklahoma,” Baker added. When officials unveiled the project, they said there would be spots for approximately six national restaurants. “I don’t know anybody in this part of the country that hasn’t said ‘I wish we had this’ or ‘I wished we had that.’ People don’t realize the dollars that go to Muskogee or go to Tulsa to just go out to dinner, and we think we can reverse that to where folks from Muskogee are going to be coming this way,” Baker said. “Folks from Tulsa, they can play golf. They eat at our restaurants and eventually stay at our hotel. It’s just going to be a destination of a mixture of fine dining, shopping, a casino resort, golfing. It’s going to tie everything together here at the Cherokee Nation.” Baker said the space would also include a convention center so people who often use convention centers at hotels in the Tulsa area can stay closer to home. He added that CNB Executive Vice President Chuck Garrett had much to do with what the CN envisioned for the property and was the “perfect fit to carry the ball.” Garrett said he’s looking forward to helping execute Baker’s vision for the property. “As chief said, I think that for the first time the citizens of Tahlequah and Cherokee County are going to have the entertainment and amenities that they deserve. They’re no longer going to have to travel to Tulsa, Muskogee or other larger cities outside of the area to enjoy a restaurant or some shopping opportunities that they’ve previously had to travel for,” he said. “We also hope to be providing a venue for entertainment and other community activities within a conference center that will be attached to a hotel.” The project will be completed in three phases, Garrett said. Phase 1 will include the “civil engineering” portion of the project that will consist of road construction and pad sites where potential businesses will be developed. “So our initial efforts will be focused on the engineering and road construction necessary for the development including water, sewer and those sorts of things,” Garrett said. The first thing citizens will see, he said, will be pad sites along the highway that will be the future homes of restaurants. Phase 1 is underway and is expected to be complete in 12 to 18 months. But citizens will see work on the property within the next month, Garrett said. Once everything is complete, Baker said, the CN would continue with its plan to move the Cherokee Nation Immersion Charter School into what will be the former Cherokee Casino Tahlequah, located west of Sequoyah Schools along Hwy 62. “We designed it that way when we built it…so we won’t have two casinos. But when we build the one there (behind Cherokee Springs Golf Course), the one out here (Hwy 62) will become the immersion school,” Baker said. The Cherokee Phoenix will update this story as more developments unfold.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/29/2014 11:40 AM
<a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2014/8/8481_HolidayGuide2014.pdf" target="_blank">Here</a> you will find the schedule of events for the 62nd Annual Cherokee National Holiday.
BY BRYAN POLLARD
08/29/2014 10:23 AM
The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board will be meeting via conference call at 9 a.m. CDT, September 10, 2014. To attend, please use the conference call information listed below. The meeting agenda is <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2014/8/8480_140910_EB_Agenda.pdf" target="_blank">here</a>. Dial-in: 866-210-1669 Entry code: 4331082
BY JOSH NEWTON
08/29/2014 08:31 AM
Tahlequah Daily Press TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Authorities with the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service and Ontario Provincial Police in Canada say that until last month, a man living in Tahlequah had been presumed dead as a result of a 1977 barn fire. “The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service, acting on a tip, did locate Ronald Stan alive and living in Tahlequah on Aug. 5,” said Amanda Clinton, the Cherokee Nation communications director. She said the tribe would make no other comment about the discovery. Authorities in Canada say Stan, who has been living in Tahlequah under the alias of Jeff Walton, disappeared from his home in Ontario nearly 37 years ago. According to media reports out of Canada, Stan lived in the former Township of East Williams in Middlesex County, but was reported missing when a barn caught fire on Sept. 29, 1977. Witnesses reportedly saw Stan near the barn before it broke out into a blaze. Remnants of a body were never found, but in 1986, Stan was declared legally dead in Canada. He had reportedly left behind a wife and children there. But authorities in Canada say a recent audit of Stan’s disappearance somehow connected the supposedly missing person to a man living near Tahlequah, 69-year-old Jeff Walton. According to some media reports, police used Facebook connections to pinpoint Walton in Cherokee County. Authorities have not said what Stan’s motives might have been for disappearing 37 years ago, nor whether the barn fire thought to have taken his life was or is now considered to have been suspicious. But Canadian officials have suggested Stan faces no criminal charges there. Stan’s 35-year-old son, Jeff Walton Jr., told the Toronto Star that his family is “still trying to put all the puzzle pieces together.” He said family members from Stan’s U.S. life learned of the former life last month. Stan reportedly has grandchildren in the U.S. as well. On April 23, 2000, Stan, under the name of Walton, married Cherokee County resident Debra E. Proctor in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Court records show Proctor and Stan divorced earlier this month – according to Walton Jr., because of the revelation of his father’s secret Canadian past. In Proctor’s petition for divorce, she cites “incompatibility” between herself and Stan. Walton Jr. told the Toronto Star that his father now suffers from vascular dementia and heart disease, and was in a nursing home when authorities began to uncover Stan’s past. According to court documents, Stan has also gone by the name of Jeff Winton, and reportedly spent some time in Louisiana after leaving Canada. “It’s been tough on me, but he’s still my father,” Walton Jr. told the Toronto Star. “It doesn’t change the man I knew for 35 years. Hopefully one day, he can sit down and write a book and remember all the stuff he’s been through in his life. It’d be a damn good book, I’ll tell you that, just from what I’ve heard.” Canadian media also reported that the Ontario Provincial Police have closed their case. – REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION