Happy Father’s Day!
Jim Boyd’s song, “Father and Farther,” was featured in “Smoke Signals,” the movie based on Sherman Alexie’s short stories. Meanwhile, in Carroll County, Ark., the annual Father’s Day Powwow is going on this weekend, according to this Carroll County News story. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads!
Sounding off on New York’s latest cigarette tax plan aimed at Native Americans
Managing editor Eric DuVall of the Tonawanda News does not think much of New York’s plan to tax tribes’ cigarette sales. Of the complicated plan, he says here: “Either system would be surely subjected to a court review, and considering either system does mean that Native Americans will be taxed on sales to fellow Native Americans, it’s likely to be struck down. And if it isn’t, I sincerely hope they go back to burning tires on the Thruway.”
Deadline extended in Keepseagle suit on behalf of Indian farmers and ranchers Shades of Cobell – the deadline to settle a lawsuit on behalf of Native American farmers and ranchers denied access to USDA loans has been extended until July 29. A tentative agreement in a similar case involve Hispanic ranchers reportedly has been reached, Rob Capriccioso of Indian Country Today writes here. A report in the Keepseagle v. Vilsack case estimates Native farmers and ranchers were denied about $3 billion in credit, resulting in between $500 million and $1 billion in damages.
Salish language camp attracts students of all ages
Last week’s Salish language camp on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana was a blend of old and new, B.L. Azure writes here in the Char-Koosta News. Part of the Salish Language and Culture Camp held by the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee involved lessons by Shirley Trahan, who used a MacBook Pro computer loaded with the Salish language font.
Wisconsin tells school to dump Ho-Chunk chief logo
The state of Wisconsin wants the Osseo-Fairchild high school to ditch its nickname — the Chieftains — and logo of a Ho-Chunk chief. Local parents Harvey and Carol Gunderson filed a complaint about the logo. “It’s about a matter of psychological harm to students. Research has found that it lowers the self-esteem of American-Indian students, but it raises the self-esteem of European-American students,” Harvey Gunderson tells WQOW, here. The state agrees, but a school board member is fighting the order. A hearing is set for June 28.
Native American farmers and ranchers have been waiting a long time for results from their Keepseagle v. Vilsack case.
The case seeks redress for Indian people denied millions of dollars in the same sorts of ag loans that went to their white neighbors (see previous post, here). But hope may be on the horizon.
As the AP’s Ben Evans reports here:
George Keepseagle of Fort Yates, N.D., lead plaintiff in the Keepseagle v. Vilsack case. (AP photo)
The Obama administration on Tuesday offered $1.3 billion to settle complaints from female and Latino farmers who say they faced discrimination from the Agriculture Department.
The proposal comes as Congress is poised to approve a $1.25 billion settlement with African-American farmers in a similar discrimination case. The agency also is negotiating with Native American farmers over another lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Friday is the court-mandated deadline for congressional approval in the historic Cobell v. Salazar case that would distribute $3.4 billion to Native Americans bilked out of oil, timber and other royalties held in trust for them by the federal government.
As lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, who is Blackfeet from Browning, Mont., told the AP’s Matt Volz, here, earlier this week:
“I want us to win for once, you know? Indians are always losing.”
Elouise Cobell in Washington, D.C., in December when the $3.4 billion settlement was announced in Cobell v. Salazar. It appears to have been a prematurely celebratory moment. (AP photo)
When the historic $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement was announced last fall, it was heralded as cause for celebration, something that would finally address – however short it fell of the actual mark – decades of Indian people being swindled out of the trust money due them from the federal government.
That settlement, in turn, gave rise to hope that the Keepseagle v. Vilsack case would soon be resolved, too. That case involves Indian farmers and ranchers being denied the sorts of U.S. Department of Agriculture loans readily given their white neighbors.
It’s going on six months since the Cobell settlement, and no one has seen a dime. That’s because Congress has three times delayed signing off on it, to the point where a judge had to order a May 31 deadline.
Meanwhile, the two sides in the Keepseagle case, whose settlement once appeared imminent, are said to still be far apart.
Indian Country Today’s Rob Capriccioso explores the holdups here. Check it out.
George and Marilyn Keepseagle, who filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination against Native American farmers more than a decade ago, at their kitchen table last winter in Fort Yates, N.D. (AP/Will Kincaid)
April 15 is the day taxes are due, but this year, the date has special significance for Native American farmers and ranchers who lost out on millions of dollars in loans from the federal government.
That’s the day a status report is due in the case of Keepseagle v. Vilsack, as in U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The case is a huge discrimination lawsuit against the USDA, which alleges the agency favored white farmers and ranchers over Native Americans when it gave out loans – resulting in the loss of billions of dollars in credit over a quarter-century, according to this National Law Journal story by Marcia Coyle. It says the agency also ignored complaints by Native farmers and ranchers.
Vilsack is seeking a settlement in the case, originally filed in 1999, so U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia agreed to halt the litigation for 60 days.
That stay runs out April 21, with the status report due to Sullivan next week.
“We are nowhere close to a settlement, but it remains to be seen what our clients are prepared to do in connection with the stay,” says lead counsel Joseph Sellers, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll in Washington, D.C.
“Given the case has been pending more than 10 years and has lost some of the named plaintiffs, the passage of time can be very cruel,” he tells Coyle. “The concern is moving the case along, whether through settlement or continuing the litigation.”
She writes that:
U.S. Reps. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., and Tom Cole, R-Okla., co-chairs of the Native American Caucus, sent a letter on March 26 urging Vilsack to settle the litigation on terms comparable to the department’s recent settlement with African-American farmers. The department settled late-filed claims of black farmers for $1.25 billion, in addition to the $1 billion previously awarded for timely filed claims in that litigation.
One of the privileges of doing this blog is the immersion in news from Indian Country. Yes, there is much that is troubling – but there is so much more that is uplifting, inspiring, enjoyable and just plain interesting. Those stories are gifts. On this day, we’ll celebrate some of those gifts we’ve received in the past year, in the forms of stories about people who stood up to power, who enriched our lives with the arts, who simply delighted us – and of course, we’ll honor those who have passed. The list is by no means all-inclusive, but we hope you enjoy recalling these moments along with us as we listen to Jana Mashonee sing “Silent Night” in Arapaho.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Standing up for people’s rights
Elouise Cobell. Elouise Cobell. Elouise Cobell. Because of her, literally hundreds of thousands of people in Indian Country will begin to receive financial redress for the way the U.S. government has cheated them for generations of the royalties due them for the use of their lands for oil, gas, grazing, etc. On Dec. 8, the Interior Department announced it would settle her 13-year-old lawsuit for more than $3 billion. The government had tried to settle the case a year early for $455 million – relative chump change, in this case – but Cobell, who is Blackfeet from Montana, stood firm on behalf of Indian people. The settlement amount exceeds that of all other Indian claims combined over the years. Yes, it still fell far short of the more than $40 billion owed. But, as Cobell points out, “We also face the uncomfortable but unavoidable fact that a large number of individual Indian trust beneficiaries are among the most vulnerable people in this country, existing in sheer poverty.”
The news was nearly overshadowed by the settlement in the Cobell case, coming as it did on the same day, but it looks as though Indian farmers and ranchers who allege they were shortchanged to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars on USDA loans may finally be getting their due. A suit named for George Keepseagle, a Fort Yates, N.D., rancher says that Indian farmers were denied the same types of loans that went to white ranchers with no problem. That suit was filed in 2001; it will be going to settlement talks in February.
It may be the Christmas season, but Brandon Sazue, chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, is maintaining his lonely vigil on tribal land recently auctioned off by the Internal Revenue Service to pay a disputed debt. The tribe maintains the auction is a violation of sovereignty. Even though there are assurances that rights to the land won’t actually be transferred until legal questions surrounding the auction are settled, Sazue has set up camp on the tract in a propane-heated trailer. Anybody checked the weather report for South Dakota yet? It’s been miserable. But, says Sazue, “I will not sit in a warm house … while this is going on.”
In Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union went to bat on behalf of 5-year-old Adriel Arocha. The little boy, who is Lipan Apache, was told he couldn’t attend kindergarten in the public Needville schools unless he complied with a dress code by cutting his braids – even though his parents explained that he wears his hair long for religious reasons.
And, finally, a coalition of indigenous groups is petitioning Pope Benedict XVI to repeal the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, a “papal bull” that basically justified – on religious grounds! – the subjugation and brutalization of Native peoples by foreign invaders. It was for their own good, you know. That loathsome doctrine is more than 500 years old, a fact that makes the pace of our present-day lawsuits look downright speedy.
George Keepseagle, who filed the original suit. (AP photo)
This appears to be a day for movement in long-running federal lawsuits. Here’s the latest on the suit filed by Native American farmers against the USDA:
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge has approved settlement talks in a decade-old discrimination lawsuit filed by American Indians against the U.S. Agriculture Department.
Both sides asked Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington for 60 days of settlement talks. Sullivan moved a status hearing that had been scheduled for Wednesday to Feb. 10.
The lawsuit contends Indian farmers and ranchers lost hundreds of millions of dollars during the past three decades because of discrimination in lending by the Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency.
It was filed in 1999 by a couple who ranch on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation straddling the North Dakota-South Dakota state line.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said last month that the department was committed to resolving litigation.
Attorneys for both sides had no immediate comment Tuesday.
Crow Chairman Cedric Black Eagle: “The non-Indian farmers and ranchers are getting all the help and we're not.” (Billings Gazette photo)
A decade-old lawsuit that contends discrimination cost Indian farmers and ranchers nearly half a billion dollars could be nearing an end.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Indian farmers and ranchers this week that the department is “committed to resolving” litigation involving them, the Associated Press reports here.
The suit takes aim at what it contends are discriminatory lending practices by the Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency, which issues loans to farmers and ranchers who cannot get credit from commercial lenders.
The Justice Department said the case is expected to be considered again by the court early next year.
The lawsuit, named after George Keepseagle, a Fort Yates, N.D., rancher, says local USDA officials tried to squeeze them out of business by denying them loans that instead went to their white neighbors and by refusing to restructure loans in bad years as was done for whites, according to the AP.
“It’s a detriment to us to have to be put in a position where, truly, the non-Indian farmers and ranchers are getting all the help and we’re not,” says Cedric Black Eagle, chairman of the Crow Tribe in southeastern Montana.
Another long-running suit – filed by Elouise Cobell, who is Blackfeet from Montana – seeks seek billions of dollars on behalf of Indian people who claim they were swindled out of oil, gas, grazing, timber and other royalties administered by the Interior Department since 1887.