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
04/27/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Six Cherokee Nation citizens, five of whom are CN citizens, recently formed an AAPC chapter in Tahlequah. The AAPC is the nation’s largest training and credentialing association for the business side of medicine. Those forming the chapter are CN citizens Melinda Mefford, Janice Horton, Jaycie Robbins-Bogart, Barbara Weavel and Deanna Chandler, as well as CN employee Gina Fletcher. Fletcher serves as the chapter president while Mefford is vice president. Horton is secretary, and Robbins-Boggart is treasurer. Weavel serves as the education officer, while Chandler covers new member development. “The new chapter was requested because local residents who are members of AAPC had to drive to Tulsa, Fayetteville (Arkansas) or Fort Smith (Arkansas) for monthly meetings,” Fletcher said. “These meetings provide not only networking with other coders and billers, but also provide continuing education units at no cost. These CEUs are necessary to maintain AAPC certification. We’re so excited to be able to offer these opportunities to our local membership.” According to a press release from the new chapter, local chapters provide an opportunity for health care professionals to share common interests, questions, information and concerns. Local chapters also provide AAPC with feedback on programs, trainings and current trends facing the health care community, it states. “AAPC local chapters are crucial for our industry; they’re at the grass roots where true networking and education take place,” AAPC CEO Jason VandenAdkker said. “Our members receive assistance and encouragement from those who have ‘done it’ before them. We’re very proud of our local chapters officers who volunteer to promote the profession and give back to others because someone gave to them.” AAPC has more than 500 chapters across the county. In addition, the chapters provide an education forum, offer networking opportunities and establish an environment where less-experienced members may interact, learn and be mentored by those with more experience. For more information about AAPC certification and local chapters, visit <a href="http://www.aapc.com" target="_blank">www.aapc.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/27/2017 12:15 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa recently joined the ranks of the best hospitality establishments in the country when the American Automobile Association honored it with its Four Diamond Rating. Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s largest entertainment property is now recognized as one of North America’s select accommodations. Fewer than 6 percent of the 28,000 AAA-approved and diamond-rated establishments in the nation receive the prestigious distinction. “This honor affirms our commitment to remain a premier entertainment destination,” Martin Madewell, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa senior director of hospitality services, said. “We are proud to see the dedicated efforts of our staff be nationally recognized and ranked alongside the most elite establishments in the U.S.” According to AAA, a Four Diamond property is one that is “refined, stylish with upscale physical attributes, extensive amenities and high degree of hospitality, service and attention to detail.” AAA, the world’s largest publisher of travel information and one of the world’s largest leisure travel agencies, rates more properties than any other rating entity. Lodging establishments and restaurants receive a rating of one to five diamonds. AAA uses full-time, professionally trained evaluators to inspect each property annually. Diamond ratings appear in online travel guides, on the club’s website and via the AAA Mobile app as well as the printed Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri & Oklahoma TourBook® guide. For more information about AAA and Diamond Ratings, visit <a href="https://www.ok.aaa.com" target="_blank">https://www.ok.aaa.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/26/2017 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Restoring Identities after Sexual Exploitation, RISE, will have its second annual “Rise to Freedom Gala” on June 2 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The event begins at 6 p.m. and will host guest speakers Kylla Lanier, “Truckers Against Trafficking” deputy director, and sex traffic survivor Dr. Amanda Reed. Tickets for the event are $100 and can be purchased at <a href="https://squareup.com/store/rise-corp/" target="_blank">https://squareup.com/store/rise-corp/</a>. RISE was created after Cherokee Nation citizen Keri Spencer’s daughter asked her if they could help those who have been sex trafficked so they created a church program to educate children and parents on what to look for regarding sex trafficking. From that, Spencer spearheaded RISE. “RISE is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. I actually am the founder…and serve as the executive director,” she said. “RISE exists to open a long-term residential facility for girls in Oklahoma that are ages 12 to 18 who have been sex trafficked or commercially sexually exploited.” For more information about RISE or to donate, visit <a href="http://www.riseshelter.org" target="_blank">www.riseshelter.org</a>. For more information about the event, call 918-822-3539 or email <a href="mailto: kerispencer.rise@gmail.com">kerispencer.rise@gmail.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/25/2017 03:00 PM
LONGMONT, Colo. – First Nations Development Institute on April 20 published a report that clears up a longstanding “urban legend” that has had a negative impact on Native communities. The report “Twice Invisible: Understanding Rural Native America” challenges the commonly held belief that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives live in cities and urban areas. The report looks closely at U.S. Census data and uses a definition of “rural” areas developed by the Housing Assistance Council that is calculated with a formula that takes into account population and housing density. Using this definition, First Nations’ researchers found that 54 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native people live in rural and small-town areas on or near reservations, contrary to common belief. “An outdated measure of ‘urban’ areas has been used by the Census Bureau for a long time,” First Nations President and CEO Michael E. Roberts sad. “Their definition of ‘urban’ includes small towns of less than 4,000 people. We felt the need to clear up some misconceptions and, in doing so, hopefully improve the distribution of resources to these rural and small-town areas. This is part of our longstanding work of elevating the Native voice and working to change the narrative about American Indian and Alaska Native people. We don’t want rural communities to be left out.”?? First Nations Associate Director of Development Eileen Egan said the institute kept hearing from different foundations that they were using the statistic that 72 percent of Native Americans live in urban areas, which is often reported by researchers. “That didn’t sound right to us. We felt a responsibility to dig deeper since it impacts the distribution of resources. We know that most of our grantees and many of our partners reside and work in remote, small-town areas that we, or anyone, would never define as ‘urban,’” she said. Raymond Foxworth, First Nations vice president of Grantmaking, Development and Communications, said First Nations’ mission has always been to work with rural American Indian and Alaska Native communities, which are often left out of mainstream funders’ program areas. “The erroneous 72 percent statistic was being widely used to direct money away from these rural areas, where the populations often struggle with higher poverty rates and many other economic and social disparities,” Foxworth said. “We felt it was important to understand where this number was coming from and how accurate it was. We feel it is much more accurate to say that 54 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives, or a majority, live in rural and small-town areas.” ?? In addition, the report found that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives, or 68 percent, live on or near their home reservations. “We understand the challenges associated with using Census data to understand rural Native America, but we believe that only with carefully analyzed data can we have an accurate understanding of rural Native America, and make rural Native America visible again,” Sarah Dewees, First Nations senior director of Research, Policy and Asset-Building Programs, said. “We hope this report will be useful to funders and nonprofit staff who are designing programs to effectively serve Native American people.”?? The full report can be downloaded at <a href="http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center/strengthening-nonprofits" target="_blank">http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center/strengthening-nonprofits</a>.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
04/25/2017 08:15 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – According to an economic impact study, the Cherokee Nation’s financial influence on Oklahoma exceeded $2.03 billon in 2016, growing from $1.5 billion in 2014. Dr. Russell Evans, an Economic Impact Group principal and Oklahoma City University assistant professor of economics, conducted the review. He released his findings during an April 21 forum at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. “What we find is that the Cherokee Nation operations here in northeast Oklahoma in 2016 had an over $2 billon impact on northeastern Oklahoma. Supporting nearly 18,000 jobs, just under $800 million dollars in income here in northeast Oklahoma,” he said. “It’s a tremendous source…and perhaps even more valuable given the general state of the state’s economy last year.” The study shows the tribe employs more than 11,000 direct and contract employees across the United States, with a majority being in Oklahoma. “$500 million is being paid out in northeastern Oklahoma to workers of Cherokee Nation Businesses and Cherokee Nation government offices. They’re taking back to their communities and spending in their local communities,” Evans said. “The Cherokee Nation directly produces or directly buys from local vendors almost $1.5 billon worth of goods. These are the revenues that are generated by this operation, the Cherokee Nation as well as purchases being made by the businesses and government operations of local vendors. So nearly $1.5 billon in direct economic activity in this area of Oklahoma we can trace back to the Cherokee Nation.” Evans said the “significance” of the tribe’s economic impact might affect economic development patterns “well into the future.” “I want to kind of keep in the back of your mind as you think about the true significance of the economic impact of the Cherokee Nation operations, it’s not just what the Cherokee Nation is doing today from who they employee and what they buy, but it’s also what I suspect we’ll see is that it’s also going to affect patterns of economic development well into the future,” he said. During the forum, Principal Chief Bill John Baker said it’s “amazing” to see the impact the tribe is generating in the state. He added that approximately 40 years ago, when the tribe re-organized as a government, the CN was producing an impact of $0 compared to the approximately $2 billon it produced in 2016. “Five short years ago we rolled out an economic impact on Oklahoma of the Cherokee Nation of almost $1 billon. How amazing that in 40 short years we went from $0 economic impact to a billon dollars. Today you have an economic impact statement…that says the Cherokee Nation had an economic impact last year of over $2 billon,” he said. According to a CN press release, studies of tribe’s economic impact have been conducted every two years since 2010. Reports from 2010, 2012 and 2014 showed the tribe’s economic impact as $1 billion, $1.3 billion and $1.55 billion, respectively. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeenationimpact.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeenationimpact.com</a>. <strong>Total compact for 14-county jurisdiction, according to <a href="http://www.cherokeenationimpact.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeenationimpact.com</a>.</strong> County Output Jobs Income Adair $67.9 million 902 $37.1 million Cherokee $275.9 million 5,910 $220.9 million Craig $14.3 million 273 $10.5 million Delaware $186 million 1,371 $56 million Mayes $163 million 781 $24.8 million McIntosh $1.8 million 13 $696,672 Muskogee $113 million 952 $40.3 million Nowata $26.4 million 263 $10.2 million Ottawa $3.2 million 53 $989,474 Rogers $386.3 million 2,923 $135 million Sequoyah $152.1 million 1,200 $49.8 million Tulsa $592.8 million 2,626 $181.1 million Wagoner $6.6 million 48 $1.2 million Washington $48.8 million 475 $16.8 million
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham
04/24/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Native Americans representing several tribes visited downtown on April 8 for an intertribal powwow at the Cherokee Nation Capitol. Cherokee Nation citizen JoKay Dowell, who came with family members, called the powwow a Native-based social occasion because powwows are not culturally Cherokee. “Cherokees have adopted it in recent generations, so there’s a lot of Cherokees here as well as Kiowas, Navajo, Comanches, Quapaw, Muskogee, Sac and Fox, all kinds of tribes.” Native vendors also set up at the event selling assorted items such as beaded necklaces and jewelry until the powwow closed at sundown.