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North Dakota tribes urge settlement in Keepseagle case

16 September 2009

BISMARCK (UTN) - The five tribes of North Dakota are urging a settlement in the ten year old lawsuit by American Indian ranchers against the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

      Members of the United Tribes of North Dakota passed a resolution supporting a settlement in the ‘Keepseagle’ case as quickly as possible.

At center in front row, lead plaintiff George Keepseagle from the Standing Rock Tribe listens to another rancher prior to a meeting September 11 in Bismarck about their class-action discrimination lawsuit against the USDA. United Tribes News photo

      The action was unanimously approved by tribal leaders of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, Spirit Lake Tribe, Standing Rock Tribe, Three Affiliated Tribes and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, at a meeting September 11 in Bismarck.

      The resolution calls on the Attorney General and USDA to “commence meaningful negotiations toward a settlement” in the case that was filed November 24, 1999.

      The action alleges widespread and systematic discrimination against Native American farmers and ranchers in the government’s agricultural loan programs over the better part of two decades.

      The lead plaintiff in the case is George Keepspeagle, a rancher from the Standing Rock Tribe in south-central North Dakota. The case became a class action lawsuit in 2001on behalf of over 10,000 American Indians who farmed or ranched between 1981 and 1999 and who faced bias and discrimination in USDA loan programs.

Eighty-three year old Cecilia Circle Eagle of the Red Scaffold District on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, attended the Keepseagle plaintiffs meeting in Bismarck. Her son brought her to the meeting to learn about the latest in the ten year old case. United Tribes News photo

      Settlement discussions under both the Clinton and Bush administrations yielded no results.

      According to the plaintiffs, the USDA acknowledged in a 1997 that it had failed to provide Native American famers with the same opportunities to obtain farm loans as it provided to white farmers.

      The plaintiffs also say that the USDA issued several studies conducted by its Office of Inspector General finding that the department had dismantled its system for processing civil rights complaints in the mid 1980s.

      The United Tribes resolution called on members of the congressional delegations of the states most affected by the case to urge the Obama Administration to pursue settlement discussions.

      The USDA recently settled a similar lawsuit filed on behalf of black farmers who had suffered discrimination in USDA loan programs.

      The resolution also called for a continuation of the moratorium on farm and ranch foreclosures announced earlier this year by new Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

      The resolution was signed by Myra Pearson, chair of the United Tribes board and chairwoman of the Spirit Lake Tribe, and Marcus Levings, the board’s secretary/treasurer and chairman of Three Affiliated Tribes.

      Follow this link for a copy of the resolution.