Published August 20, 2018
WASHINGTON — Trustees recently met to launch the new Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF). The NAAF is an outgrowth of the long-standing Keepseagle v. Vilsack case which spent over eighteen years in federal litigation.
History of the case
The Keepseagle case received considerable attention throughout Indian Country and the Nation from its filing in 1999, until it was finally settled by the Obama administration. The case was based on discrimination against Native American farmers and ranchers in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) farm and ranch loan program and in the servicing of loans once received. The settlement resulted in creation of a $680 million compensation fund with an additional $80 million in debt relief. A six-month claims process resulted in approved claims for over 3600 Nativefarmers and ranchers. The settlement also created equitable relief that required USDA to create an advisory body reporting to the Secretary of USDA, enact modifications in the farm loan programs, and create technical assistance opportunities for Nativeproducers.
After claims were paid, a cy pres fund was created for unclaimed amounts. After further court appeals, a second compensation payment to successful claimants was approved, as were $38 million in grants to non-profit organizations (referred to as the “fast track funds”) that support Native farmers and ranchers. Those payments have been completed.
In addition to the fast track funds and second compensation payment to successful claimants, the court also approved the establishment of a trust fund to distribute the remaining cy pres funds to charities that support Native farmers and ranchers. Now that all appeals in the case have been exhausted, including denial of a petition of certiorari by the US Supreme Court late this spring, the charitable trust fund has now been established. A history of the litigation concerning the trust fund, the fast track funds and related issues can be found at: http://www.indianfarmclass.com/CyFunds.aspx.
The charitable trust fund is called the “Native American Agriculture Fund,” and its mission is “to fund the provision of business assistance, agricultural education, technical support, and advocacy services to Native American farmers and ranchers to support and promote their continued engagement in agriculture.” The Court approved the appointment of fourteen Trustees and an Executive Director. With over $266 million in funding, the NAAF is the largest philanthropic organization solely devoted to serving the Native American community. Those appointed to serve as Trustees and their Tribal affiliation are:
Elsie Meeks (Oglala Lakota) – Board member of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board; former State Director, South Dakota Rural Development; rancher
Claryca Mandan (Three Affiliated Tribes) – Lead plaintiff; Natural Resources Director, MHA; rancher
Richard Williams (Oglala Lakota) – Consultant; former Director of the American Indian College Fund
Porter Holder (Choctaw) – Lead plaintiff; Vice Chair, Council on Native AmericanFarming and Ranching; rancher
Paul Lumley (Yakama) – Executive Director, Native American Youth and Family Center
Charles Graham (Lumbee) – State Representative, North Carolina General assembly
Michael Roberts (Tlingit) – President and CEO, First Nations Development Institute
Sherry Salway Black (Oglala Lakota) – Chairperson, First Peoples Fund; Board Member and Consultant to Johnson Scholarship Foundation
Pat Gwin (Cherokee) – Sr. Director of Environmental Resources, Cherokee Nation; rancher and expert on Native American heirloom seeds
Dr. Joe Hiller (Oglala Lakota) – Professor Emeritus, University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Jim Laducer (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) – Director and majority shareholder, Turtle Mountain State Bank
Marilyn Keepseagle (Standing Rock Sioux) – Lead Plaintiff; rancher; recently replaced by Dave Archambault, Sr. – Chairman, American Indian Business Leaders and education consultant
Ross Racine (Blackfeet) – Executive Director, Intertribal Agriculture Council; rancher
Monica Nuvamsa (Hopi) – Executive Director, The Hopi Foundation
Ms. Meeks was selected to serve as Chair of the Trustees board; Rick Williams was selected to serve as Vice Chair. In late July, Mrs. Keepseagle resigned from service as a Trustee, and on her strong recommendation, the Board voted to replace her with Dave Archambault, Sr. (Standing Rock Sioux). In addition to the Trustees, the court approved the appointment of Janie Simms Hipp (Chickasaw) as Executive Director of the NAAF.