A $760 million Settlement with the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) has been reached in the Keepseagle v. Vilsack class action lawsuit. The lawsuit claims the USDA discriminated against Native Americans by denying them equal access to credit in the USDA Farm Loan Program.

According to what I’ve read, Native Americans, along with African Americans and Hispanic Americans were discriminated against for a period of eighteen years by the USDA, a federal agency that makes farm loans and residential mortgages in areas that have a limited population. There are several lawsuits that are being settled:

  • Keepseagle v. Vilsack
  • Pigford v. Vilsack (“Pigford I” or the “Black Farmers Case”)
  • In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation (“Pigford II”)
  • Love v. Vilsack (”Women Farmers Case”)
  • Garcia v. Vilsack (“Hispanic Farmers Case”)

The detailed settlement notice states:

The lawsuit claims that the USDA denied thousands of Native American farmers and ranchers the same opportunities to get farm loans or loan servicing that were given to white farmers and ranchers.

The Settlement does not mean the USDA violated any laws.  The USDA denies it did anything wrong.

I find this upsetting on so many levels I hardly know where to begin.  The upside, I suppose, is that they have agreed to settle the lawsuit (without admitting to any wrongdoing) and the people who come forward will be in some way assisted for their losses.  They may have relief now, after who knows what hardships they endured, but I’ve found that money doesn’t often cure the harm that people do to one another.

I’m appalled that the USDA has denied they did anything wrong.  And they’re willing to pay seven hundred sixty MILLION dollars to prove it.

Perhaps I should explain my anger.

I’m descended from the Cherokee on both sides of my family.  My father’s grandmother was a full-blood Cherokee in eastern Tennessee.  My mother’s lineage is watered down further up the line than my father, and I think the last full blood in her heritage is her great, great grandmother, Esther.  My father’s grandmother, however, gives me enough Cherokee blood to be recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  If I could prove that my ancestors lived and died. Since they didn’t walk the Trail of Tears, but instead were the ‘renegades’ who went to North Carolina and refused to walk, they also didn’t keep birth and death records required by white men.  Guess they’d leaned their lesson on the combination of legal documents and white people, huh?

I grew up in Cobb County, which is the southernmost part of the the Cherokee Nation as it was mapped before the removal.  If you aren’t familiar with Cobb County, let me assure you now that they are steeped in the notion of their history (I lived in Historic Downtown Marietta for 20 years).  But the history they celebrate is that of the civil war; the battle of Kennesaw Mountain; Sherman’s march through Georgia.  The Gone with the Wind Museum is there.  Their history is only as old as the ‘war of  Northern Aggression.’  Nothing else has their attention.

The history (my history) relative to the Cherokee Nation: the treaties that were signed and then thrown out for more treaties, the theft of the land, the forced evacuation West (an open and obvious attempt at genocide) were glossed over so smoothly that in all my education it appeared that the Cherokee were talked into leaving;  there was no loss, no heartbreak, there were no real tears on the Trail of Tears.

In my history books the Dahlonega gold rush wasn’t preceded by forcibly moving the Indians off the land so the white man could steal the gold the Cherokee would not mine.

The land lot numbers we use in legal documents in north Georgia are the numbers given to Indian land when it was stolen and a lottery held to give it to white men.

Not only am I horrified at the treatment these people received at the hands of white intruders – I am angry that I grew up on Cherokee land and the Cherokee were  never even recognized as having a place in the history of my town, my state.

I learned these things driving my mother all over hell and creation (actually north Georgia and East Tennessee) as she did research on a book she is writing about her great, great grandmother: “For the Love of Esther.” The more places I took her, the more angry I became.

And today I learned that for whatever reason, Native Americans are still being treated as inferior.

Further information can be had at the following websites:

  • Keepseagle v. Vilsack Settlement
  • Full Notice of the proposed Settlement

May the Warm Winds of Heaven 
Blow softly upon your house.
May the Great Spirit
Bless all who enter there.
May your Moccasins
Make happy tracks
in many snows,
and may the Rainbow
Always touch your shoulder.

Cherokee Prayer Blessing