it comes at all, justice for Native American farmers and black
farmers comes in excruciatingly small drips in the form of court
decisions that barely win approval and so it is with the most recent
decision of an appeals court, about a monetary settlement for a class
of Standing Rock Sioux farmers.
this case, the federal court decision was not unanimous, with one of
the three judges saying that Congress should have had a say in the
distribution of $380 million that was the remaining amount from a
government farm loan discrimination settlement six years ago. Native
Americans filed a class action suit in 1999, charging discrimination
in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) farm loans that went back
decades. The Obama Administration agreed in 2011 to a $680 million
settlement in the class action suit, but only about half of the
10,000 claims came in, according to the Associated Press (AP).
leftover money was approved by both sides and approved by a judge
last year that included a $21,275 payment to each of the class action
parties and about $300 million to groups that assist, support, or in
some other way help Native Americans in their struggle. The lead
plaintiffs in the suit were George and Marilyn Keepseagle. However,
two of the claimants, according to the AP, have filed suit in a
separate court action, asking that the entire $380 million be divided
up among the class.
that is not the end of the matter, since the attorney for the two
claimants in the separate lawsuit said that the dissenting judge
provided enough material issues that an appeal to the 2-1 decision is
sure to come. It may be that the decision may be held up for a long
time, possibly years, which is routine for those seeking redress of
grievances by those most vulnerable in the U.S.
class action in the upper Midwest is not as well-known as that of the
loss of black-owned farms and land across the South that started more
than a quarter-century ago, but it has all the earmarks of the same
kind of discrimination. In both cases, it seems, there was little
publicity about the cases, although they were both of long standing.
In the case of Native Americans, it might be seen to go back as far
as contact with European settlers and, in the case of
African-Americans, it goes back to the first slave ships to land on
the continent. But, this is about the rules and regulations of
government agencies and courts of law under the U.S. Constitution in
the modern era.
cases are separated by considerable distance, the Native American
case involving land that straddles the state line of the two Dakotas,
and the black farmers’ case involves land that was taken,
usually by discrimination in farm loans, that put black farmers in
precarious economic straits. This continued from Reconstruction,
through the Jim Crow decades, up into the modern manifestation, the
New Jim Crow, which is going strong to this day.
was relatively easy for the USDA farm loans of every kind to be
manipulated, since the local committees of the federal agency usually
were made up of local (white) farmers, who decided to whom and when
the loans were given. Often, black farmers had their seed and
fertilizer loans approved at about the time the white farmers’
crops were well out of the ground. That was just one way that black
farmers were put at a disadvantage, for, if their crops were late and
the harvest was not full, they lost money. If this happened too many
years in a row, they might be forced to sell and many had to, over
the years. That was just one way that white farmers came to own
black farmers’ land across several states. And, it was that
routine discrimination that gave rise to organizations like the Black
Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, the National Black Farmers
Association, and other groups that were formed to stop the bleeding
of black-owned farms and land.
efforts resulted in a multi-billion-dollar settlement in a case that
stretched from the early 1990s to today. The USDA paid out some of
the settlement money, but there were many owners and farmers who were
left out of the settlement, much of it through confusion of deadlines
for filing and about who might be eligible to make a claim.
is not likely that the recent settlement with the Standing Rock Sioux
is that much different, although, on the face of it, it appears that
it was a more blatant form of discrimination, not including the
“legal” way that black-owned land was taken, through such
methods of breaking up “heired” (as in splitting up the
many heirs to a farm) land and farm foreclosures.
would the U.S. government treat the Native American claimants any
differently in the farm loan discrimination as it has in the
construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, the construction of which
was fought valiantly in the last year by the Standing Rock Sioux,
scores of other tribes and nations, and untold numbers of supporters.
They all thought that the project, which threatened the drinking
water of millions, had come to a halt and that they had won, but the
election and inauguration of Donald Trump as president reversed many
things, including the pipeline.
Trump, all bets are off and human rights and the environment be
damned. He seems to see nothing on earth as anything but the means
to make money, for himself and others of his economic class.
Although he is not responsible directly for the discrimination cases,
if Trump learns nothing else in his life, he should heed the Cree
prophesy: “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the
animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all
the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot