Historic Settlement Reached in Native American Farmer Discrimination Case

HISTORIC SETTLEMENT REACHED IN NATIVE AMERICAN FARMER DISCRIMINATION CASE

On October 14th, the parties in a class-action discrimination suit involving Native American farmers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Justice, now known as Keepseagle v. Vilsack, announced in federal court that they had reached a settlement.

This proposed settlement would resolve an 11-year old case alleging that USDA discriminated against Native Americans in their applications for Farm Service Agency farm loans and loan servicing while white farmers received loans and better service. The original plaintiffs in the case were Marilyn and George Keepseagle of the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, Claryca Mandan of the Fort Berthold Reservation, and Porter Holder of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. The settlement includes $80 million in farm debt forgiveness for the Indian plaintiffs and a series of initiatives to address racism against American Indians and other minorities in rural farm loan offices.

The case does not need congressional approval, unlike the Pigford II case (black farmer discrimination case) and the Cobell case, which are both awaiting congressional approval; and the United States would use a fund called the Judgement Fund, administered by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Treasury Department, to make the payments set forth in the settlement.

President Obama issued a press release announcing the settlement, stating”[W]e take an important step forward in remedying USDA’s unfortunate civil rights history” and that the agreement “helps strengthen the nation to nation relationship and underscores the federal government’s commitment to treat all citizens fairly.” The judge presiding over the case, Emmet Sullivan, stated the plaintiffs “have been waiting years for justice.” Click to read President Obama’s full statement on the settlement.

Congress Passes Indian Veterans Housing Legislation

CONGRESS PASSES INDIAN VETERANS HOUSING LEGISLATION

On October 12th, the Indian Veterans Housing Opportunity Act was enacted into law. The legislation passed the Senate on September 28th and passed the House of Representatives in April.  This legislation will exclude disability payments to veterans and veterans payments to surviving spouses from the definition of “income” under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA).  As a result, more Indian veterans and their families will be eligible for homes built with NAHASDA funding.

For more details, see the official NAIHC press release

Darren Cruzan Joins BIA

Darren-Cruzan

Assistant Secretary EchoHawk announced the appointment of Darren Cruzan (Miami Tribe of OK) to serve as Deputy Director of the Office of Justice Services (OJS).  The appointment became effective on September 27, 2010.  Mr. Cruzan comes to OJS from the Pentagon. He has past experience as a police officer for his Tribe and has served in several capacities with BIA law enforcement.  He will take over for Jason Thompson, who served as the Acting Deputy Director of OJS for the past 6 months. See more details in PDF format.

Pre-Election Report

MAPETSI PRE-ELECTION REPORT

After midnight on Thursday, September 30th, the U.S. House of Representatives adjourned for the November 2, 2010, federal elections. Before leaving, the House approved a continuing resolution to fund the government through December 3, 2010, at current spending levels – a measure the U.S. Senate approved approximately 6 hours earlier. At stake in the November 2nd elections are all 435 House seats, and 37 Senate seats. The current makeup of the House is 255 Democrats, and 178 Republicans (2 seats are currently vacant). The Senate currently has a 59-41 Democrat-Republican split. Most signs point to gains for the Republican Caucus in both the House and Senate. Mapetsi will provide a prompt comprehensive post-election report after the elections.

However, before new Members are sworn in for the 112th Congress, the 111th Congress will reconvene for a “lame duck” session after the elections. This session will last at least 2 weeks, beginning the week of November 15 through 19. Congress will then take a one-week recess for the Thanksgiving holiday, and then reconvene for the week of November 29 to December 3. The primary goal for the lame duck session will be passage of a fiscal year 2011 spending bill either in the form of an omnibus appropriations bill or a year-long continuing resolution. In addition, Congress will likely consider extension of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, the defense reauthorization bill (which currently includes a repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the Development, Relief and Education for Minors or “DREAM” Act), and an extension of unemployment insurance benefits.

From Indian country’s perspective, this will be a final opportunity this year for Congress to consider passage of legislation to address the Supreme Court’s attack on tribal sovereignty in the Carcieri v. Salazar decision as well as approval of a settlement of the long-standing Cobell litigation. In addition, we are pushing for the Congress to enact appropriations bills or an omnibus instead of a year-long continuing resolution because federal spending for subsequent fiscal years will likely be flat.

Tribal Law and Order Consultation Series

TRIBAL LAW AND ORDER CONSULTATION SERIES

On October 1, 2010, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) announced a series of six (6) consultations on the implementation of the Tribal Law and Order Act. The consultations will address the following issues:

  • Enhancing BIA’s Special Law Enforcement Commission process, including establishing minimum requirements for granting federal commissions
  • Establishing guidelines for BIA approval of tribal jails for long-term incarceration (sentences longer than one-year)
  • Development of a long-term plan for incarceration (and alternatives to) in Indian country, including:
    • Construction, operation, maintenance of juvenile and adult facilities in Indian country
    • Contracting with state and local detention centers
    • Alternatives to incarceration
    • Construction of federal facilities on Indian lands
  • Improving crime data collection and reporting in Indian country
  • Establishing standards and deadlines for BIA Office of Justice Services background checks for BIA and tribal police and correction officer candidates

All 6 of the consultations are taking place during the month of October.  Read the full article in PDF.