Members of the Council for Native American Farming and Ranching tour the Department of Agriculture headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 2012. Photo: Lance Cheung / USDA
Law | National

Council for Native American Farming and Ranching schedules June 20 meeting

With Indian farmers and ranchers still waiting on a second payout from the $760 million Keepseagle settlement, an advisory board created by the historic lawsuit is preparing for its next meeting.

The Council for Native American Farming and Ranching consists of tribal leaders and key advocates. They advise the Department of Agriculture on issues affecting Indian Country, such as the one that led to the Keepseagle case -- discrimination against tribal citizens who sought services from the federal government.

The council is continuing that mission with a June 20 meeting in Washington, D.C. While the agenda hasn't yet been posted, topics of prior gatherings have included loan programs in Indian Country, inclusion of Native youth in federal initiatives and tribal priorities in the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

The Keepseagle case has been discussed of course. After the council's last meeting in November, the nation's highest court turned away the last appeals in the long-running drama, clearing the release of the leftover funds from the settlement.

Those funds, known in legalese as cy pres, come to about $380 million. Of that amount, the Indian farmers and ranchers who previously qualified for payments will share in another $77 million -- each is due to receive a check for $18,500, plus a $2,775 payment made in their behalf to the Internal Revenue Service.

Class members who have been closely following the case are eagerly awaiting updates about those checks. But there might not be news in time for the meeting next month, due to the way the federal courts handle their workload.

According to the Keepseagle website, "payments will be made no later than 60 days after the mandate issues returning the case to the district court. The mandate has not yet issued but we are preparing to distribute the funds promptly once that happens."

The U.S. Supreme Court declined the petitions in Mandan v. Perdue and Tingle v. Perdue on March 26. The court promptly informed the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the final appeals had been rejected a year ago, of the development that same day.

As of Tuesday evening, however, the mandate has yet to be issued through the federal district court in Washington, D.C., where the lawsuit originated way back in 1999.

Janie Simms Hipp appears before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on January 17, 2018. Photo: SCIA

But there is some other news regarding the case. In an order issued last week, Janie Simms Hipp, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation who previously served as a senior adviser at the USDA, was appointed as executive director of a trust fund that will oversee the distribution of $265 million to Indian Country.

Since leaving the agency, Hipp launched the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law. She testified about her efforts, as well as about agribusiness in Indian Country, at a hearing on Capitol Hill in January.

"Guiding my work at the Initiative on a daily basis is the need to feed the people who live in our most rural and remote places, create jobs, and stabilize economies for Native people who we all know have deep connections to the land on which they live, to farming and ranching, and to the foods they produce every day," Hipp said in prepared testimony to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

The trust fund is part of the settlement modification that was approved by the courts, along with the second payout to Keepseagle class members. The money is to be distributed over a 20-year period, a process that will be overseen by a board of experts.

More immediately, $38 million in grants is supposed to distributed to organizations that help Indian farmers and ranchers.

Federal Register Notice:
Council for Native American Farming and Ranching (May 4, 2018)

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Keepseagle v. Perdue (May 16, 2017)

Related Stories:
Native Sun News Today: A 'great day' as Keepseagle settlement funds due for release (April 6, 2018)
Keepseagle checks finally coming to Indian farmers and ranchers (March 26, 2018)
Fate of Keepseagle settlement funds in hands of Supreme Court (March 19, 2018)
Expect longer wait for Keepseagle payments as legal dispute drags out (January 23, 2018)
Keepseagle payments delayed as opponents take case to Supreme Court (January 10, 2018)
Trump administration offers harsh view on $680 million Keepseagle settlement (October 2, 2017)
Court decision supports release of $380M in Keepseagle settlement funds (May 16, 2017)
Native Sun News Today: Appeals court takes up Keepseagle lawsuit (February 8, 2017)
Council on Native American Farming and Ranching gets new members (December 5, 2016)