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One Giant Step Forward

On April 29th, something historic happened. After 11 years, a settlement was reached in the case of Keepseagle vs. Vilsack. Like many things concerning American Indian and government relations, I was not aware of this case even with all the significance the decision comes with. This case pitted American Indian farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It came about eleven years ago like I mentioned, but with everything that has been happening has almost been an afterthought until recently. Once Obama and his cabinet were sworn in, the secretary of the USDA wanted to make it a priority to resolve this issue.

This became an issue when Indian plaintiffs said that since 1981 they were denied the same opportunities as white farmers. They were unable to obtain low-interest loan rates and loan servicing from the USDA. This caused hundreds of millions of dollars in economic losses.

Albeit these losses, it is time to move forward now that the case has been settled. What are the terms of the “victory.” The USDA is paying $680 million dollars in damages to thousands of Indians along with forgiving $80 million dollars in farm loan debt. So, this results in a total reward of $760 million dollars along with improving farm loan services to American Indians. This is a great day for American Indian farmers as one, Claryca Mandan, says “The changes to USDA’s Farm Loan Program will mean that our children and grandchildren will inherit a system that is far more responsive and fair to Native Americans than the system that hampered our generation of farmers and ranchers.”

A precedent has been set now regarding unfair treatment against American Indians, at least in this aspect. As we have learned in our class so far, there are still a ways to go. Many things can still be done regarding other issues even things not affecting the economy, such as scholarly areas that several of the authors have mentioned. But, this is a big step. President Obama knows it; he says, “This is yet another important step forward in addressing an unfortunate chapter in USDA’s civil rights history.” This should say another important step forward in a long line to address issues. But, I think his heart and mind are in the right place. It will be interesting to see what the next step in fixing these relations will reveal itself as.

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