Remaining Keepseagle Funds Could Create a Foundation to Benefit All Indian Farmers and Ranchers

September 11, 2013

The Keepseagle v. Vilsack class action made history in 2010 when Indian farmers and ranchers were awarded $680 million in damages and $80 million in debt relief for decades of harsh discrimination by the USDA’s Farm Loan Program. There is an opportunity to make history again – this time by using unclaimed settlement funds to create the largest endowed foundation in United States history dedicated to assisting current and future generations of farmers and ranchers throughout Indian Country.

Keepseagle class representatives unanimously agreed that consolidating the funds in a large, well-managed foundation would have a far more profound and greater long-term impact than dispersing the funds all at once to multiple organizations. The first step in creating such an opportunity is to change the provision of the settlement agreement relating to the unclaimed funds. This is why class counsel asked the court to consider the merits of the single foundation concept and how best to create and implement such a plan.

Under the terms of the Settlement Agreement for the Keepseagle Lawsuit as currently written, the Intertribal Agriculture Council could arguably make the strongest case for a portion of the Cy Pres funds for it’s own purposes. The Intertribal Agriculture Council is the longest standing national organization specifically serving Indian Agricultural interests; representing Tribes and Tribal producers. The membership of the IAC, by its very charter consists of each and every Federally Recognized Tribe and Alaskan Native Village.

Self-serving interests aside, the Board of Directors and Membership of the Intertribal Agriculture Council were unanimous in their support of a solution that would benefit the next 7 generations of farmers and ranchers. A newly created foundation would receive the Cy Pres fund from the Keepseagle Settlement as an initial endowment. The Fund could generate $30 million in annual interest revenue.

Funding to enable Indian Country itself to formulate solutions to problems it faces in any arena; should be cause for thanks and celebration.  The IAC greatly appreciates the hard work of George and Marilyn Keepseagle, Porter Holder, the late Basil Alkire, Claryca Mandan, Keith Mandan, John Fredericks Jr., the late Luke Crasco; the unnamed plaintiffs, and last but not least, all former and current members of Class Counsel.

An important provision of the foundation proposal is that it would be managed and controlled by leaders from Indian Country. The foundation board would be comprised of those who are familiar with the farming and ranching needs of our communities. With the Court’s approval, this board – rather than class counsel or any other non-Native entity – would approve recipients of foundation funds.

The benefits that this foundation ultimately can achieve within our farming and ranching communities are boundless. Consider what it would mean to have funds available year after year to provide, among other things, agricultural scholarships for our promising young people; endow educational programs that build our capacity to grow and sustain livestock and crops; provide financial and technical assistance to Native farmers and ranchers now and in the future; grow our rural-based community college agri-business system; and, finally, to ensure that Native peoples will be able to remain on the land we all hold sacred.

We urge all who believe as we do that “the land does not belong to us; it is only borrowed from our children” to support this legacy foundation so that this unexpected inheritance will pay forward for countless generations to come.