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Est. April 5, 2002
May 25, 2017 - Issue 700

Justice Comes Slowly
Native Americans
Black Farmers


"For 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."

If 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.

In 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).

The 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.

Apparently, 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.

The 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.

The 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.

It 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.

Their 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.

It 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.

Why 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.

For 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 eat money.” Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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