Cherokee, other tribal farmers seek compensation based on class-action suit against USDA

After 11 years of legal battle, Native Americans won a class-action lawsuit in 2010 against the U.S. Department of Agriculture known as Keepseagle v. Vilsack. Under the ruling, Native American farmers and ranchers have until December 27, 2011 to file a claim to receive up to $50,000 each.

Assistance in filing is being offered to members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians between Oct. 18 and Oct. 20, according to a report in the Cherokee One Feather.

According to a report by topclassactions.com:

Class Members of the Keepseagle class action settlement include all Native American farmers and ranchers who:

* Farmed or ranched or attempted to farm or ranch between January 1, 1981 and November 24, 1999; and
* Sought, or attempted to seek, a farm loan from the USDA during that period; and
* Complained about discrimination to the USDA orally or in writing on their own or through a representative, such as a tribal government, during the same time period.

Western Farm Press reported on May 2, 2011:

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan granted final approval of the historic settlement between Native American farmers and ranchers and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in a case known as Keepseagle v. Vilsack.  Resolving a nationwide class action lawsuit, the Keepseagle settlement agreement requires 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. …

The Keepseagle 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 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. …

AgWeek.com reported that, under the settlement, “USDA also will create a Federal Advisory Council for Native American farmers and ranchers that will include Native American representation from around the country as well as senior USDA officials. Further, USDA will establish an office to address farm program issues relating to Native American farmers and ranchers and all other socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and offer Native American farmers enhanced technical assistance services through the establishment of a network that provides intensive instruction to recipients concerning financial, business and market planning skills and supports the deployment of tribal agriculture advocates and third party outreach and education providers.”

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About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism.

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