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 LINDSEY BARK
News Writer
08/17/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Dr. Mike Dobbins, of Fort Gibson, said he’s ready to serve his first term as the Dist. 4 Tribal Councilor and looks to improve the Cherokee Nation’s health care system. Dobbins will take his councilor seat with 37 years of experience in health care, practicing dentistry for 20 of those years. “I chose to run because from a distance I’ve become quite familiar with the Cherokee health system, and there are some great things about it. The framework’s in place…and a lot of good has transpired. With my experience I feel like I can lend some expertise to help improve the system. That was my primary motive in running for council...to see what I could do to improve the health care system,” Dobbins said. He said he has more to learn about the CN Health Services and how it functions on a daily basis. Dobbins is also involved in higher education, teaching at dental schools for the past 17 years and assisting Cherokee students interested in health care. “I’ve assisted multiple Cherokee students with scholarship opportunities, not only with Cherokee scholarships, but with other Native American scholarships and try to help them go through college with little-to-no debt as possible,” he said. He said in Dist. 4, he’s also heard concerns from CN citizens about housing issues. “I’m also knowledgeable of the fact that there’s a lot of other Cherokee needs (including) infrastructure, housing, elder care. I’m also sensitive to those areas as well. I plan to be a multi-purpose councilman,” Dobbins said. “I’m on the outside right now, but I intend to see (and) get familiarized with the housing program and make sure that citizens of District 4 are considered for any housing possibilities.” The 2017 Tribal Council election was Dobbins’ second attempt at becoming a CN legislator. He said he learned from his “mistakes” four years ago and that it was a “less stressful” campaign this time around. “I ran four years ago and lost by two (votes) to an 18-year incumbent,” he said. “You learn by experience, and I enlisted more help, actually, this time. I tried to do a lot of myself four years ago. I’d say…most importantly I learned what not to do rather than what to do.” Dobbins said he has an obligation to serve not only the CN citizens who helped or voted for him, but also those who did not. “I’m their councilman now, and I feel a deep debt of obligation to fulfill that duty,” he said. “I just look forward to serving the Cherokee people on the council. I do have a busy schedule but I feel like I will be accessible. I have a busy schedule outside my councilman responsibilities, but my councilman responsibility will be my priority.”
BY LINDSEY BARK
News Writer
08/16/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – E.O. Smith, of Vian, on Aug. 14 will begin serving his first term as the Dist. 5 Tribal Councilor after winning a July 22 runoff election. He will take the seat being vacated by Tribal Councilor David Thornton. Smith won the runoff against Cherokee Nation citizen Uriah Grass by receiving 52.26 of the vote. He previously spent eight years as a CN Food Distribution warehouse manager in Sallisaw. His platform includes improving education, employment and health care for Cherokees. “I want to help. There’s some of these families, they don’t need to live in the condition they live in. (Cherokee) Nation is strong but I’d like to help make it stronger. I just care about people…I just want to make things better for District 5,” he said. Born in Mexico, Smith moved to Vian with his mother and father at age 2. “My dad was a farmer, and back then there wasn’t any farm aid or anything, and a flood wiped them out and they lost everything they had. So he had to move out to Mexico and worked in the oil fields, saved up money to come back home,” he said. After seeing his father’s work ethic and ability to move back to the United States to become a business owner, Smith followed in father’s footsteps by becoming a business owner, operating two stores in Vian for 29 years. Smith was also involved with youth and youth sports, coaching sports teams for more than 42 years. “That’s my passion. That’s what I love to do. I like working with kids,” Smith said. As a councilman for the city of Vian, Smith said he see too many young people, Cherokees and non-Cherokees, with no desire to work and wants to motivate them to find jobs. Smith said in his travels in the CN, about 85 percent of people he talked to brought up improving health care, especially for elders. “Overall, I just want to help improve things. I’m for all the programs we got going. I don’t want to cut any. I’d like to see some improve,” he said. He said he had a tough election but is ready to get his feet on the ground and see what lies ahead of him as a Tribal Councilor to improve programs and other issues in the CN and Dist.5 “We all want good things for the (Cherokee) Nation, or we wouldn’t be running. I’m just so excited for this chance. I can’t wait to get started. I really want to try to help. I’m 66. I feel good and this may be my last chance to do something good,” Smith said. Smith said he is creating an office in Vian where he will be available from 9 a.m. to noon five days a week and will also be accessible by phone at 918-705-1845. “Let’s pull together and help me make this a good four years. Let’s don’t fight. Let’s pull together,” Smith said.
BY CHANDLER KIDD
Intern
08/16/2017 12:00 PM
JAY, Okla. – After winning a July 22 runoff, Mike Shambaugh is the new Tribal Councilor for Dist. 9, which covers the southern half of Delaware County and part of eastern Mayes County. The current chief of police in Jay, whose has been involved with law enforcement for 28 years, said he’s a goal-oriented person, and it’s been a lifelong goal to serve on the Tribal Council. Shambaugh obtained that goal after by earning 54.96 percent of the vote in the runoff against Cherokee Nation citizen Clifton Hughes. “The opportunity came up, and I thought it would be a great time to run and I won,” he said. Shambaugh said he began his career in law enforcement as a patrolman and worked his way to a district attorney investigator. As Jay’s chief of police and holding an administrator position, Shambaugh is accustomed to dealing with people’s problems in a professional way, he said. “You have to learn to listen as an administrator. Everybody has a story to tell when they have a problem,” Shambaugh said. “The first thing that is out of my mouth is ‘What can I do to help you today?’ I want to know how to help them or where I can send them to get help.” He said he’s most excited to be working and meeting people of Dist. 9 while representing the CN as a whole. He also said he plans to incorporate his experience with doing paperwork to help CN citizens get services while he serving for the next four years. “A lot of people have trouble doing paperwork with the Cherokee Nation because it is pretty extensive in some areas. Well, I would be willing to sit down with them and even write it out for them if they were having trouble filling it out,” he said. Shambaugh added that he believes it is important for people outside of the CN to know the Cherokee people are here to help. He stated that the Nation is always pushing forward to make things better for its people. During his time as a tribal legislator, he said wants to work to improve elder care. “I have already had four of five phone calls from people who need help, and my job hasn’t even started yet. Whether it is handicap ramps or something else,” he said. “Health care, elder care and education are three big things with me, and the Cherokee Nation has shown that these are important issues with them also.” Shambaugh said he’s proud of his Cherokee heritage, and to honor it while on the Tribal Council he said he plans on incorporating his board position at the United Way in hopes of delivering school supplies to schools in the CN that need assistance. “My mother was full blood, and my family as far back as I first remember spoke mainly Cherokee when I was young. Everything that I have seen with the Cherokee Nation has made me proud because the Nation has made great strides to help their citizens,” he said. Shambaugh and the other eight Tribal Councilors who won seats in this year’s elections were inaugurated on Aug. 14.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
08/15/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The former Cherokee Nation Marshal Service building located west of the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex has had many uses since it was built in the 1980s, but its days are numbered. The building will soon be taken down to provide more parking for the Tribal Complex, on which a second story was recently added to provide more office space and accommodate the tribe’s courts. “The building will be disassembled rather than demolished,” CN Construction Project Administrator Paul Crosslin said. “We’re hoping we can save some parts for future construction projects.” Crosslin said he is not certain when the building will be disassembled. Tests such as tests for asbestos levels first need to be completed. “We’re hoping to start the disassembly next week (week of Aug. 14) but that decision hasn’t been made yet,” he said. Longtime CN employees estimate the building was constructed in the mid-1980s as a green house with no insulation. In the 1990s, the building housed the Cherokee Gift shop. “I worked there when I started in 1992,” Cherokee Gift Shop General Manager Linda Taylor said. “That was before the gift shop was moved to the front of the Cherokee Nation Annex building. CNMS Capt. Danny Tanner said the building housed the CNMS from 2001 until this past March. “Our new location (inside the Cherokee Nation EMS building east of the Tribal Complex) was actually built for the Marshal Service, but the CN Election Commission ended up moving in,” he said. Tanner said he was grateful the CNMS was able to move to its new location. “This is where Cherokee Marshal Service should be located.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/15/2017 10:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Nearly 20 Cherokee children competed in three age divisions on Aug. 12 at the Tahlequah Armory Municipal Center for the titles of Little Cherokee Ambassadors. But only six walked away earning crowns. Salina Elementary School fifth grader Leah Gardner was crowned as the 2017-18 Little Cherokee Ambassador in the 10-12 age category. Gardner, 10, is captain of her school’s Cherokee Language Bowl. She gave a demonstration on basket weaving as her cultural presentation. She also correctly named stickball as a traditional Cherokee game, answered 18 as the age that Cherokee Nation citizens must be to vote and knew the Cherokee Female Seminary was the first institution of higher learning for Cherokee girls west of the Mississippi River. “I’m really excited to be a Little Cherokee Ambassador, and I’m looking forward to all the parades,” Gardner said. Joining her in the male division of Little Cherokee Ambassador is Heritage Elementary School fourth grader Preston Gourd, 10, of Tahlequah. Alayna Paden, a fourth grader at Cherokee Immersion Charter School, and Cooper Dorr, a third grader at Lowrey Elementary School in Tahlequah, won in the 7-9 age division. Winning in the 4-6 age division were Avery Raper, 5, who attends Pryor Learning Center, and Dante Anguiano, 5, a kindergartener at Heritage Elementary School in Tahlequah. The competition kicked off the 65th annual Cherokee National Holiday, which runs Labor Day weekend. The Junior Miss Cherokee competition was slated for 6 p.m. on Aug. 19 at the Tahlequah Armory Municipal Center. The Miss Cherokee Leadership Competition will be held at 6 p.m. on Aug. 26 at Cornerstone Church in Tahlequah.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/14/2017 09:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation will have nine Tribal Councilors sworn into office at 10 a.m. on Aug. 14 at Sequoyah High School’s gymnasium. The nine Tribal Councilors who will be administered the oath of office by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Garrett are Joe Byrd (Dist. 2), Mike Dobbins (Dist. 4), E.O. Smith (Dist. 5), Frankie Hargis (Dist. 7), Mike Shambaugh (Dist. 9), Harley Buzzard (Dist. 10), Victoria Vazquez (Dist. 11), Janees Taylor (Dist. 11) and Mary Baker Shaw (At-Large). The legislative branch consists of 17 members representing the 15 districts inside tribe’s jurisdiction and two at-large seats representing citizens outside the boundaries. Councilors are elected by popular vote to four-year terms. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UU1u8efDqQQ" target="_blank">Click here to</a>watch the live feed of the inauguration.