National Congress of American Indians Calls on Obama Administration to Settle Native American Farmers’ Credit Discrimination Lawsuit Against USDA
Pressure Building to Resolve Claims of Native American Farmers Denied $3 Billion in Credit
WASHINGTON – National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the nation’s oldest and largest national organization of American Indian tribal governments, passed a resolution Oct. 16 calling on the Obama Administration to settle a class action lawsuit filed in 1999 on behalf of thousands of Native Americans who were unlawfully denied credit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In recent weeks, pressure has been building on the Obama Administration to resolve the Keepseagle lawsuit and reverse its decision to lift a moratorium on the foreclosure of Native American farmers and ranchers.
NCAI’s resolution, passed at NCAI’s 66th Annual Convention in Palm Springs, Calif., calls for a “negotiated settlement of the Keepseagle vs. Vilsack case as quickly as possible, along the lines” of a settlement that the USDA previously entered into with black farmers who alleged similar types of systemic racial discrimination in the USDA’s farm loan programs. To that end, the NCAI “urges the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture to commence meaningful negotiations towards a settlement of the Keepseagle litigation as soon as possible, including both monetary and prospective relief.”
According to a recent expert report, Native American farmers and ranchers suffered approximately $500 million to $1 billion dollars of economic losses due to the USDA’s discrimination that resulted in the denial of $3 billion worth of credit.
The NCAI resolution also urges the Obama Administration to reinstate a moratorium on foreclosures of Native American farmers and ranchers until the Keepseagle action is resolved. Without such a moratorium on foreclosures, large numbers of Native American farmers and ranchers who are in the Keepseagle class and allege that the USDA discriminated against them could lose their land before they have their day in court.
A few weeks ago, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, along with Sen. Kent Conrad, (D-N.D.), and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), wrote to Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing substantial concern about his decision to lift a moratorium on American Indian foreclosures that USDA had established earlier this year. The Congressional letter expressed concern that the Department would undertake such foreclosures until “the claims in the [Keepseagle] lawsuit have been resolved” and “request[ed] that the Department refrain from such activities until a final decision is reached in the lawsuit.”