Big funds for Native American farmers and ranchers on the way
Some overdue support and payback are on the way for Native American farmers and ranchers. A $380 million settlement, issued by a federal judge this April, will create a Native American-run $265 million endowed trust for nonprofit organizations working on Indian lands. It will also pay other money to families who sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discrimination.
The settlement stems from a 1999 class-action lawsuit, filed by Marilyn and George Keepseagle, ranchers from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. The case claimed the USDA Farm Loan Program illegally discriminated against thousands of Native American farmers and ranchers during the previous two decades, denying them opportunities to receive farm loans, technical assistance and other services routinely offered to white farmers and ranchers. Since many tribal farmers have only partial, or fractionated, shares of parcels — due to 20th-century Indian land policies — families often lack land equity and struggle to get loans or credit access for farming — even without facing discriminatory practices. The Obama administration originally settled Keepseagle v. Vilsack in 2010, agreeing to pay $680 million to class action claimants.