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 WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
10/23/2014 12:45 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The North American Indian Court Judges Association recently honored Cherokee Nation District Court Clerk Kristi Moncooyea for her work with the court. Moncooyea, who received the “Court Support Excellence Award,” has served as the only clerk for the District Court for the past 10 years and is “the amiable face that greets everyone who comes to the Cherokee Nation District Court,” a NAICJA statement reads. “Handling the workload of at least three or four clerks all by herself, she handles the extraordinary caseload with great energy and resourcefulness,” the statement reads. “In addition to maintaining the court’s docket and case files, she answers the phone and patiently deals with attorneys, parties, law enforcement officers, and community members on a daily basis.” Moncooyea, who is a CN citizen, said it is “very humbling” to be recognized by the NAICJA. “I consider it an honor and privilege to work in the Cherokee Nation judicial system providing assistance to our Cherokee citizens as well as the general public who require services of the court,” Moncooyea said. “I share this award with the awesome court staff I work with daily who are always there to assist and help make the courthouse a friendly place to come to.” District Court Judge John T. Cripps said Moncooyea is “a role model and inspiration” for tribal court personnel who are often challenged to do a great deal with very little assistance or resources. “She is always courteous and respectful. I can find no one who does not appreciate her work and her abilities. She is the epitome of what a tribal employee should exemplify,” Cripps said. Moncooyea is the first to receive the “Court Support Excellence Award,” from NAICJA.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
10/22/2014 01:08 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission on Oct. 14 voted to remove two voting precincts and limit the time news reporters can shoot inside precincts during elections to five minutes. Commissioners said a precinct in Cookson was added during the Tribal Council’s redistricting process but never opened as a polling place. Commissioner Shawna Calico said a decision was needed on whether to keep Cookson’s polling place or remove it. She said after some research, voters were going to have to drive either north or south around Lake Tenkiller to vote in Cookson. “So this (Keys) is still the central location, so I say we just leave it at Keys (and remove Cookson),” she said. Commissioner Teresa Hart asked how many voters were located in that area and Calico said there were more voters on the Keys side of Lake Tenkiller than the Cookson side. According to an EC report, Keys has more than 500 voters registered and Cookson had a little more than 150. Calico motioned to remove Cookson’s precinct from Dist. 3 and Commissioner Carolyn Allen seconded it. The motion passed with Calico and Allen voting yes and Hart voting no. EC Commissioner Martha Calico was absent. Commissioners also removed the precinct in Paradise Hill and placed it in Gore. EC Chairman Bill Horton said it would be more feasible for voters. “Probably Gore will encompass more local people than Paradise Hill’s got,” he said. Commissioners then approved the revised precinct map, which is to be printed opposite of the voter registration form. Shawna Calico motioned to remove Cookson and Paradise Hill from the precinct map and add Gore as a location. The changes made to the precinct map passed with a 3-0 vote. The EC also changed a policy regarding media coverage at voting precincts. The change limits media access to five minutes in a precinct. EC officials said the new policy models the state’s voting laws. “We took the Oklahoma State and what they do and kind of adopted our situation to allow cameras into the election closure and photograph but limit the time so that they wouldn’t disrupt the voting process,” EC attorney Harvey Chaffin said. The policy amendment passed unanimously. The Cherokee Phoenix requested a copy of the changes but was told that until they pass the Tribal Council they are not final. “The By-laws and Rules & Regulations of the Election Commission that have been approved through the Election Commission still have to go through Council for approval before they are official, so those aren’t ready,” EC Administrator Madison Cornett said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/22/2014 11:42 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Oct. 27, parents can begin registering their Cherokee children for the Cherokee Nation Angel Project. CNAP, formerly known as Angel Tree, is a program that allows the public to purchase and donate clothing, toys and other gifts for Cherokee children who live within the 14-county tribal jurisdiction, and who may not otherwise receive gifts during the holiday season, according to a CN press release. “More than 2,200 children received holiday gifts through the program last year,” the release states. To qualify for the program, children must be 16 years of age or younger. Applicants must provide proof of income for all household members over the age of 18. For example, a family of three must not exceed $2,061 in household income per month, and a family of four must not exceed $2,484 per month. Those applying must provide a proof of residency and tribal citizenship card for each child. For more information, please call 918-266-5626, ext. 7720 or 918-458-6900. Applications must be filled out at the following locations from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Nov. 7. <strong>Beginning Oct. 27</strong> Salina: A-Mo Health Center, 900 N. Owen Walters Blvd. Catoosa: Indian Child Welfare Office, 750 S. Cherokee St., Suite O Muskogee: Three Rivers Health Center, 1001 S. 41st St. E. Vinita: Vinita Health Center, 27371 S. 4410 Road <strong>Beginning Oct. 28</strong> Chouteau: Chouteau Public Schools, 521 N. McCracken Collinsville: Victory Cherokee Community Building, 1025 N. 12th St. Nowata: Will Rogers Health Center, 1020 Lenape Drive Pryor: Cherokee Heights Housing Addition, 133 Cherokee Heights Stilwell: Indian Child Welfare Office, 401 S. 2nd Westville: 402 S. Park St. (house across from Westville Junior High) Jay: Cherokee Nation Human Services, 1501 Industrial Park <strong>Beginning Oct. 30</strong> Bartlesville: Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation, 1003 S. Virginia <strong>Beginning Nov. 3</strong> Tahlequah: W.W. Keeler Complex Financial Resource Building, 17675 S. Muskogee Ave.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/21/2014 01:06 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Three Cherokee communities will host Halloween-related events before and during Halloween. In Marble City, citizens are hosting the “Trail of Terror” to provide a safe but scary fun for those who dare to walk the trail. This is the ninth year for the outdoor event, and it will be held one mile south of Marble City from 7:30 p.m. to 11:55 p.m. on Oct. 24-25. People should follow signs to the Noisey Ranch. Admission is $3 per person. Because the trail is outdoors, no flip-flops are allowed to prevent injuries. It will take 15 to 20 minutes to walk through the trail, which is situated in 10 acres of woods. This year, the eighth grade class at Marble City School is doing a special scene. A volunteer work crew from Haskell Indian Nations University is also assisting with the trail. This year’s big feature is a maze and a psychedelic tunnel, said coordinator Tamara Hibbard. “All the workers are volunteers. We put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into getting it ready. We just do it for the enjoyment of the people. We never break even with admission,” she said. “Any money that we take goes back for expenses like fuel for the generator, fog juice, fake blood, props and costumes.” A free “Daisy Trail” will be available for small children that will include carnival games and non-scary stuff. For more information, call Hibbard at 918-315-2583. After trick or treating on Halloween, families are invited to the Rocky Mountain Cherokee Community Organization’s “Haunted Trail and Kiddie Carnival” from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the organization’s community building. All activities are free except for the concession stand. Cherokee storyteller Sequoyah Guess will be the guest storyteller. The trail and storytelling will be held behind the community building, weather permitting. Games and concession stand will be held inside. The trail will not be suitable for younger children. Carnival-type games will be set up and suitable for anyone. The Rocky Mountain Community is located off of 100 Hwy. in Adair County, about seven miles west of Stilwell. For more information, call Vicki McLemore at 918-506-0487. The Brushy Cherokee Action Association will host a “Haunted House and Trail” and a hayride from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 29-31 at the Brushy Community Center building. Events will last until 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 31. Cherokee Nation staff members Stephanie Buckskin and Mary Owl, along with Brushy volunteers, are building and installing the “Haunted House and Trail.” BCAAA welcomes all residents of Brushy and surrounding communities to the Halloween events. Admission is $2 per person and $10 per family. Concessions will be available. The Brushy Community Center building is located seven miles north of Sallisaw on Hwy 59 on E. 1010 Road. For more information call Gary Bolin at 918-315-7797 or Newton Spangler at 918-575-5998.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
10/21/2014 08:05 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee youth from across northeastern Oklahoma were sworn in as Tribal Youth Councilors on Oct. 13 by Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Justice Darrell Dowty. The 17 youth raised their hands and took their oaths of office during the Tribal Council meeting. The TYC will serve a one-year term and gather monthly for a meeting and activities. Activities could consist of a guest speaker, a cultural tour/activity, leadership training or community service projects. “I just think it’s fantastic that we have some up-and-coming leaders. This Youth Council is growing our leaders for the future. I’m very appreciative of the ones who agreed to serve and the staff who are helping them,” Tribal Councilor Tina Glory Jordan said. Tribal Youth Councilor from Kansas, Oklahoma Taylor Armbrister, 15, said he wants to serve on the council because he knows it will offer opportunities for him to better himself along with learning more about his Cherokee culture and heritage. “I just saw an opportunity to better myself. I look forward to doing some community service. It’s always a joy to help people in need,” he said. Along with Armbrister, the Tribal Youth Councilors are Ja-li-si Pittman, 20, of Tahlequah; Haylee Caviness, 17, of Tahlequah; Jacob Chavez, 17, of Tahlequah; Haley Teehee, 17, of Tahlequah; Kaley Teehee, 17, of Tahlequah; Morgan Mouse, 16, of Welling; Ashton Shelley, 17, of Park Hill; Summer Eubanks, 17, of Stilwell; Elizabeth Hummingbird, 17, of Stilwell; Sarah Pilcher, 16, of Westville; Cierra Fields, 15, of Fort Gibson; Blake Henson, 16, of Fort Gibson; Bradley Fields, 15, of Locust Grove; Ashlee Fox, 17, of Bartlesville; Abigail Shepherd, 15, of Ochelata; and Cassidy Henderson, 15, of Welch. The TYC was established in 1989 to provide leadership opportunities for Cherokee youth and to educate youth about the tribal government, culture, history and language. “It’s a wonderful opportunity and a true privilege to serve on the Youth Council,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. During the meeting, Baker presented a framed proclamation to former Tribal Youth Councilor and current TYC Coordinator Lisa Trice-Turtle and other former Tribal Youth Councilors. The proclamation honors the 25th anniversary of the council, which officially formed Oct. 14, 1989. Baker read the proclamation, which stated the program has kept “the Cherokee Nation in the forefront of youth programs.” “The Tribal Youth Council strives to promote and protect Cherokee lifeways through community service projects and leadership opportunities, it has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of youth. Now therefore, I, Bill John Baker, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, do hereby proclaim Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, as celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council,” Baker read. Trice-Turtle thanked current and past Tribal Councilors for supporting the TYC. “Some of their children and relatives are now on the Tribal Youth Council or have served on the Tribal Youth Council. We have over 161 former Tribal Youth Council members who are in professional employment for the Cherokee Nation as well as the private sector. I just want to say thank you for supporting our tribal youth programs and keep supporting us,” she said. Hummingbird said she wanted to join the council to be more involved with her nation. “I’m proud of my culture and just love to have this opportunity to learn more about my culture,” she said. She said wants to learn how the Tribal Council operates and what the council does during meetings. A Keys High School senior, Shelley said she believes it’s important for youth to be involved in their nation and to support it because the youth will someday inherit the CN. “I just want to learn everything I possibly can from our elders and just everyone involved with the council,” she said. “I believe this experience will help me go further in life in general, not just in college, but everything.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/20/2014 11:50 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tahlequah Public Schools Foundation is hosting its 2014 Glow Golf Fall Event on Oct. 30 to raise funds for TPS. The event is a four-member team golf scramble with teams teeing off at dusk on the city’s course located at 2200 W. Golf Course Road. Registration for begins at 6 p.m. Sponsorship levels are diamond at $2,500; platinum at $1,000; gold at $500; team at $300 and media at $200. Most packages include four T-shirts, glow golf materials, a flashlight, dinner and drinks. According to its website, the foundation’s mission is to encourage the local community to support the TPS educational system, secure contributions and distribute funds and equipment for the students’ educational benefit. The website states the TPSF was organized in 1989 by concerned citizens who believe Tahlequah’s quality of life and economic development are directly related to the quality of its educational system. It is an independent, nonprofit, charitable organization established to assist the school in improving the quality of education in the district. The foundation is separate from TPS but works closely with the school system and administration. For more information about the golf scramble, call 918-456-3761 or 918-456-1300. Or email <a href="mailto: healthfirstchiropractic@yahoo.com">healthfirstchiropractic@yahoo.com</a>.