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 JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
04/01/2015 07:39 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court on April 1 denied the Election Commission’s motion to dismiss Tribal Councilor Julia Coates’ appeal regarding her deputy chief candidacy and set a time of 10 a.m. on April 13 to hear the case’s merits. The court convened for Coates’ appeal of the commission’s recent ruling that stated she was not eligible to run for deputy chief in this year’s general election. However, the court heard two motions for dismissal, one filed by the EC and the other by Tribal Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk’s attorney Evan McLemore. Fishinghawk was one of two people to challenge Coates’ eligibility. The EC requested a dismissal based on the fact that Coates did not name the EC as a respondent in her appeal. “The commission is a necessary and indispensable party to this appeal,” the motion states. “And the time to appeal and name the commission as a respondent has passed.” McLemore also states that the appeal must be dismissed because the EC is a necessary party to Coates’ appeal. “By failing to name the Election Commission as a respondent, Dr. Coates has denied the commission its statutory right to appear before the Supreme Court and present evidence, witnesses and make legal arguments supportive of its disqualification of Dr. Coates,” his motion states. However, Coates’ attorney, Chad Smith, said the court gave notice to the commission to “provide a record of its proceeding and the commission has no further mandatory role in these proceedings.” “The hearing before this court is de novo and the contestant and respondent begin over again with the question of Coates’ eligibility by presenting their evidence,” Smith states. “Its statutory role is providing its record, which it has done. The commission has no role in defending its decision before this court – just as the District Court and the Employee Appeals Board have no role in defending their decisions on appeal.” After a recess, the justices denied the EC’s motion to dismiss and set the hearing on the case’s merits. Smith and McLemore said after the hearing that the court had sufficient evidence before it to make a decision on Coates’ candidacy. “The court properly decided the motion to dismiss. This case is not formed over substance. It’s about quickly hearing Ms. Coates’ eligibility case,” Smith said. “There’s not much more to prepare. The record is clear; the evidence is what it is. We have 31 exhibits that show that her domicile is in Oklahoma since 2000. I think that’s overwhelming.” McLemore said although the EC dismissal was denied, his was not. “In theory, my dismissal is still outstanding and I would assume that the court would rule on it on the 13th,” he said. “The court’s decision is that there was enough information in that pleading to put the commission on notice. I’m going to prepare as if it were a normal hearing. I believe the record is complete. If the opposing counsel attempts to introduce evidence that I think is objectionable I’m going to raise my objections, but I believe there’s enough in the record to defend the commission’s decision and I think there’s enough for the court to determine that yeah, maybe she is not qualified, at least for this election.” The EC ruled on March 20 that Coates was not qualified to run for deputy chief because she did not meet the residency requirements. According to CN law, a deputy chief candidate must have a bona fide residence inside the CN jurisdiction 270 days before the general election date. According to the EC ruling, Coates was domiciled in California for part of the 270 days before the election. Check back with the Cherokee Phoenix for updates.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
04/01/2015 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A recent report says that Oklahoma Indian gaming revenue increased more than $60 million in 2013, but the amount of tribal fees paid to the state has decreased by more than $3.1 million. The Oklahoman reports the 2015 edition of Casino City's Indian Gaming Industry Report released Monday revealed the revenue disparity and notes that it may be due to the change in types of gaming machines found in Indian casinos. Oklahoma tribes are required to pay the state exclusivity fees based on the amount of revenue they generate from operating Class III games like slot machines or roulette. The report noted the number of Class II games, which tribes do not have to pay state fees for, has increased from 34 percent in 2008 to 42 percent in 2013, while the percentage of Class III games has declined from 66 percent to 58 percent. "This trend toward more Class II machines in recent years is interesting and its starting point (2009) coincides with the withdrawal of restrictive Class II gaming machine regulations that were originally proposed by the NIGC (National Indian Gaming Commission) in May 2006 and ultimately withdrawn in September 2008," the report by economist Alan Meister noted. Mesiter told the paper that not having to pay exclusivity fees may be just one factor in the economic considerations that tribes make when changing from Class III to Class II games. Choctaw Nation spokeswoman Judy Allen said her tribe likes to offer a variety of games to its customers so there has always been a mix of Class II and Class III games in their casinos. The report said revenue reached nearly $3.8 billion in 2013, but the state's fee revenue dropped from $127.8 million in 2012 to $124.7 million in 2013, providing less money for education, mental health services and general operations.
BY STAFF REPORTS
03/31/2015 02:00 PM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Bacone College senior forward Matt Qualls has been named to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics 2014-15 Division I Men’s Basketball All-America teams. Qualls, of Tahlequah, was named to the NAIA Third Team All-America list. Qualls led the country and Red River Athletic Conference in scoring at 26.0 points per game and pulled down a conference leading 11 boards per game. He scored 351 points in the 2013-14 season and 676 points in 2014-15 for a total of 1,027 points. Additionally, Qualls was named RRAC All-Conference first team and a NABC-NAIA Men’s Basketball All-Star for his efforts during the 2014-2015 season. On Feb. 20, Qualls scored a career-high 47 points against LSU Shreveport in an 88-82-overtime loss. Qualls also pulled in 19 rebounds on his way to winning player of the week. He also became just the third player in school history to record 1,000 career points since the Bacone Warriors of Muskogee joined the NAIA. Though frequently injured this season, the Cherokee Nation citizen picked up other honors during the season including being named the Red River Athletic Conference “Men’s Basketball Player of the Week” three times and being named the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics “National Division I Men’s Basketball Player” of the Week for Feb. 16-22. He is studying health and physical education at Bacone and hopes to get a chance in the D-League, the National Basketball Association’s development league, or join a professional team in Europe. Eventually, he said wants to be a coach like his father Leroy Qualls.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
03/31/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court will hear an appeal regarding the disqualification of Tribal Councilor Julia Coates as a deputy chief candidate by the tribe’s Election Commission. The EC stated that Coates did not meet the residency requirements to run for the seat in the upcoming 2015 general election. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments at 2 p.m. on April 1 at the CN Courthouse in Tahlequah. In the appeal filed March 20, Coates states the EC’s decision is contrary to a previous court ruling. “The Commission’s decision is contrary to this Court’s holding in Mayes v. Cherokee Nation Election Commission,” the appeal states. The SC has until 5 p.m. April 3 to make a decision on Coates’ candidacy. To view the court documents filed in the case, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeecourts.org/SupremeCourt/SC1504CoatesvFishinghawkRichmond.aspx" target="_blank">http://www.cherokeecourts.org/SupremeCourt/SC1504CoatesvFishinghawkRichmond.aspx</a>. Check back with the Cherokee Phoenix for updates.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
03/31/2015 10:00 AM
CLAREMORE, Okla. (AP) - The Claremore Police Department and the Cherokee Nation Marshal’s Office recently entered into a cross-deputation agreement, allowing officers from both agencies to serve in each other’s jurisdictions in case of an emergency or any situation. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for about 15 years, when I became deputy marshal,” said Cherokee Nation Marshal Shannon Buhl. “Claremore is one of the largest cities in our jurisdiction we were never cross-deputized with. What that meant was they couldn’t help us if we needed something and we couldn’t help them out if they needed assistance in Native American jurisdictions that are within city limits, such as K2 product being sold at tribal smoke shops.” Buhl said this agreement has been a long time coming. Cross-deputation agreements first went into effect in July 1992 when the U.S. Congress provided authority for the U.S. Secretary of Interior to enter into agreements between the U.S. and Native American tribes and nations, states and their political subdivisions in accordance with the Indian Law Enforcement Reform Act of August 1990. “Cross-deputation can be misunderstood a lot of the time. There’s a lot to it,” said Buhl. “It’s not a mutual aid agreement. There are mutual aid agreements, such as that between the sheriff’s office and Claremore PD or Verdigris; however, Native American tribes cannot create a mutual aid agreement with non-Native American affiliations. “What that means is you have to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the city, agency and the State Attorney General’s Office, which can be a long process.” Buhl said one of the reasons the cross-deputation agreement took place is because of efforts from the Claremore Police Department. “Police Chief Stan Brown has been very proactive in the city. He’s a huge supporter of cooperative agreements with us, the sheriff’s office and other agencies, and I think he’s in some ways taken the lead on this to make this happen for us,” said Buhl. “It’s a good day for the people of Claremore and for the people of the Cherokee Nation.” Brown said the agreement acts as a “force multiplier.” “The CPD now has the opportunity to utilize nationally-recognized special operations teams through the marshal’s office for everything from high-priority arrests, to hostage rescue and search and rescue operations,” Brown said. “Anytime you have agencies that can cooperate, it makes the community safer and it raises the level of service that both agencies can bring to the population.” The Cherokee Nation Marshal’s Office covers 9,000 square miles and holds a total of 52 deputations with agencies across the 14 historical counties.
BY STAFF REPORTS
03/29/2015 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. –Red Dirt musician Stoney LaRue will be headlining this years Cherokee Nation Employee Appreciation Day, which honors employees for their hard work throughout the past year. The outdoor free concert is open to the public and is on April 2. It will take place just west of the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah. The opening act will be the all-Cherokee group, Pumpkin Hollow Band. They will kick off the show at 5:30 p.m. “These Oklahoma musicians have a strong local following and will put on a great show for our community and the entire Cherokee Nation,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “We wanted to show our appreciation to our employees and the community with a night of good music and family fun.” LaRue, who is Texas-born but a longtime Oklahoman, is known for his hits “Down in Flames,” “Feet Don’t Touch the Ground,” “Oklahoma Breakdown” and “One Cord Song.” The crowd can expect to hear his hits and also songs from his new album, “AVIATOR.” “The theme is, essentially, following direction, trusting in yourself and new beginnings,” said LaRue. “I’d say it’s a little combination of rootsy rock, country, folk and whatever else is in the hodge podge, and separate as much of the pride and ego from it, and put it in a format that’s easy to listen to.” CN citizens Rod Buckhorn, Doo Reese, Kirk Reese and Spider Stopp named the band in honor of their birthplace, Pumpkin Hollow. The country and red dirt genre band has opened for Luke Bryan, Mark Chesnutt, Brantley Gilbert and Tracy Lawrence. According to a CN press release, no alcohol, tobacco or ice chests are permitted on the premises. Food vendors will be on site and shuttles available for parking. Bringing lawn chairs and blankets to sit on is encouraged. The Cherokee Nation W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex is located at 17675 S. Muskogee Ave.