WaPo Conversation: Indian farmers celebrate $760M settlement
The Washington Post interviewed Marilyn Keepseagle, Claryca Mandan and Porter Holder about the $760 million settlement to the Keepseagle case over discrimination at the Department of Agriculture.

"Why does this settlement matter?

Claryca Mandan: To us, when we lose land that has been in our family for generations - and it's been our land for centuries . . . it is more than just losing the homestead. Our land is sacred. Our land has always been sacred to native people, and to lose our land in that way and have it sold at auction is the most egregious thing that could have happened for us.

Porter Holder: It's huge. It's huge. USDA has got good programs, but they are discriminatory in the way they give them out.

What has your personal experience with the USDA been?

Marilyn Keepseagle: George and I have been in the ranching business for about 40 years. We're still in it. In our case, I feel discrimination was always there. We also felt that we were not treated equally compared with our white neighbor, but George said we are going to be fighters and we are going to stay in it as long as we could, which we have. There's a lot of frustrations, a lot of struggle. Somehow or another, we made it. We have 280 head of cattle.

Holder: I went into USDA to try to buy a place that they had repossessed. It had sat on their negative inventory for almost 11 years. This was '98. I put everything together and knew I had a good plan. [The farm service officer] looked at my application and said, 'You might as well withdraw this.' That wasn't in his job. He was supposed to help me. . . . He wasn't even listening. . . . I said, 'Is it because I'm Native American?' His reply was, 'Have you thought about going to the tribe?' I took my plan and put it into action, and I now own 320 acres with 95 mama cows. I had to get a loan from a private bank with an interest rate of 8 percent. [At the time, the interest rate for similar USDA loans was 4 percent.]

Mandan: From the very beginning it was obvious that the agency intended to discriminate against us. We had our four-wheel-drive tractor, which was the centerpiece of our farming operation, in a repair shop, and [the farm agency] was contacted by the repairman for the payment, and the agency let them go ahead [and] take possession of the tractor and auction it off without telling us. . . . They sold it for half of what we had bought it for a year before.

We found out the same thing was going on at the same time in Montana, in North Dakota, in South Dakota, in Oklahoma. There was definitely a pattern and a practice on behalf of the agency to discriminate against Native American farmers."

Get the Story:
USDA plaintiffs celebrate settlement (The Washington Post 10/21)

Relevant Documents:
Plaintiffs Press Release | Settlement | Notice Form A | Notice Form B
Damages Award | Loan Debt Relief
Native American Farmers and Ranchers Council | Named Plaintiffs
President Obama Statement | USDA Press Release

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Justice Department reviewing settlement in Indian farmer case (10/14)
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