U.S. offers Native American farmers $680 million settlement
American Indian farmers who applied for rural farm loans but were passed over because of racial discrimination are now eligible to partake of $680 million in government reparations, reports ABC News. The agreement includes $80 million in farm debt forgiveness and initiatives designed to prevent racism from affecting the way rural farm loan offices deal with Native Americans going forward. Farmers who can prove discrimination can receive up to $250,000.
Native American farmers filed the lawsuit in 1999
Claryca Mandan of North Dakota’s Three Affiliated Tribes was denied loans in the early 1980s, a practice that made Native American farmers like herself unable to work. By 1999, Mandan became the plaintiff in the lawsuit that carried the hopes of many Native American farmers and ranchers who had faced discriminatory practices at the hands of rural farm loan offices. The underlying claim is that hundreds of millions of dollars were lost over the course of several decades of farm loan denials. Had United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans or other forms of short term loans been made available to the American Indian farmers, as they were to their white neighbors, the native farmers (from a wide selection of tribes) would have been able to compete.
According to ABC News, a similar lawsuit was filed by African-American farmers more than 10 years ago. The government settled that suit, although Congress is currently debating how to handle a new wave of black farmers seeking reparations. In the case of Native American farmers, future generations of farmers who face discrimination would be addressed without additional legislative action. Claims made by Hispanic and female farmers are pending.
Attempting to right the wrongs of a dark past
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack exclaimed in a statement that “Today’s settlement can never undo wrongs that Native Americans may have experienced, but combined with the actions we at USDA are taking to address such wrongs, the settlement will provide some measure of relief.”
While the resolution of the 1999 lawsuit cannot erase history, Claryca Mandan told ABC News that she is satisfied.
“This is a culmination of 30 years of struggle,” she said.
“While you were sleeping, they took the words from your mouth”