President Obama signs Pigford/Cobell law compensating black farmers & Native Americans for past wrongs

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Dec. 8 - Signing the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 into law Wednesday to compensate African American farmers for past discrimination and Native Americans for unpaid oil and gas royalties, President Obama said that the bill “closes a long and unfortunate chapter in our history.”

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Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) said about the bill's settlement of the Pigford II lawsuit that: “The time is long overdue to fund the discrimination settlement for farmers who have experienced decades of injustice. All farmers should receive equal access and treatment in the delivery of USDA's programs and services and I am proud that we are finally closing this chapter of discrimination within USDA. While funding this settlement will not erase the anxiety and frustrations so many hard-working farmers experienced, it will help compensate their financial losses and begin laying the foundation in restoring their faith in the United States government. I applaud President Obama for signing this important piece of legislation into law so that justice can finally be served.”

Obama said that “for many years African American farmers claimed they were discriminated against when they applied for federal farm loans, making it more difficult for them to stay in business and maintain their farms. In 1999, a process was established to settle these claims. But the settlement was implemented poorly and tens of thousands of African American families who filed paperwork after the deadline were denied their chance to make their case. And that's why, as senator, I introduced legislation to provide these farmers the right to have their claims heard. That's why I'm proud that Democrats and Republicans have come together to lay this case to rest. And that's why I'm proud that Secretary Vilsack and everybody at the Department of Agriculture are continuing to address claims of past discrimination by other farmers throughout our country.”

In the case of the Elouise Cobell's claim that the Interior Department failed to account for tens of billions of dollars that they were supposed to collect on behalf of more than 300,000 Native Americans, Obama said that “Elouise's argument was simple: The government, as a trustee of Indian funds, should be able to account for how it handles that money. And now, after 14 years of litigation, it's finally time to address the way that Native Americans were treated by their government. It's finally time to make things right.”

Obama explained that “The bipartisan agreement finalized this month will result in payments to those affected by this case. It creates a scholarship fund to help make higher education a reality for more Native Americans. It helps put more land in the hands of tribes to manage for their members. And it also includes money to settle lawsuits over water rights, giving seven tribes in Arizona, Montana and New Mexico permanent access to secure water supplies year-round. After years of delay, this bill will provide a small measure of justice to Native Americans whose funds were held in trust by a government charged with looking out for them. And it represents a major step forward in my administration's efforts to fulfill our responsibilities and strengthen our government-to-government relationship with the tribal nations.”

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