Law | National

Native Sun News: Indian farmers question Keepseagle attorneys

The following story was written and reported by Karin Eagle, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

George and Marilyn Keepseagle at their ranch on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. Photo Courtesy/Cohen, Milstein, Sellers and Toll law firm

Keepseagle plaintiffs question reliability of own counsel
By Karin Eagle
Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY — The plaintiffs of the historic Keepseagle lawsuit that pitted the Native American farmers and ranchers against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are now questioning the reliability of their own counsel.

On April 28, 2011, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan granted final approval of the historic settlement between Native American farmers and ranchers and the USDA.

Resolving a nationwide class action lawsuit, the Keepseagle settlement agreement requires USDA to pay $680 million in damages to thousands of Native Americans, to forgive up to $80 million in outstanding farm loan debt, and to improve the farm loan services USDA provides to Native Americans.

Approximately $380 million in settlement funds remain undistributed from the Keepseagle v. Vilsack litigation. The Settlement Agreement approved by the Court requires that these funds only be given to non-profit organizations providing services to Native American farmers and ranchers.

The parties to the litigation propose creating a Trust that would distribute most of these funds as grants to eligible non-profit organizations.

Counsel for the plaintiff class sought discussion on the Trust to seek views about the mission for the Trust and who should oversee the Trust. For that purpose, counsel scheduled several regional meetings and webinar (telephone conference).

What counsel found instead at the Rapid City meeting was a room full of angry plaintiffs and their family members with several questions. Many of the questions centered on why so few of the potential plaintiffs were informed of their possible claim in the lawsuit.

The counsel present explained that there was no way for them to accurately determine how many plaintiffs would actually be accounted for, but had estimated, based on the number of Native ranchers and farmers, that there would be approximately thousands of claims.

680 million dollars was the amount settled with the USDA. In the settlement that was reached there would be two separate classes of plaintiffs with one class receiving 50 thousand dollars per claim and the other class receiving 250 thousand dollars per claim. Out of the ninety claims made for the 250 thousand dollar class, only 13 claims were approved.

Many of the plaintiffs present at the August 14 meeting called for another round of payments being made to the current payments, or that another census of potential plaintiffs be made to take into account those people who were either not informed of the lawsuit in a timely manner or who did not understand their own eligibility to join the class.

Several plaintiffs voiced the opinion that they did not believe that the class counsel represented their best interests when agreeing to the stipulation that the remaining unclaimed money be given to those non-profit organizations.

The sentiment was echoed by many speakers that counsel should be “fired” and new representation be sought as the controversy of the remaining money continues.

Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC, the law firm that represented the plaintiffs reminded the gathering that the meetings were merely “listening” meetings, and that no changes could be made to the settlement, by law, at this point in the suit.

More information on the lawsuit and the remaining meetings can be found at

(Contact Karin Eagle at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

Join the Conversation