Even in the face of partisan bickering in the United States over the approval of an arms reduction treaty, Democrats and Republicans came together last week to address a long-standing claim of underpayment and resource mismanagement brought by the African-American and American-Indian communities here.
On Friday the U.S. Senate passed a Bill that sought to provide $4.55 billion in compensation to the two minority communities. Its passage marks the culmination of an effort by the Obama administration and the 111th Congress to finally settle a backlog of claims relating to allegations of racism and unfair practice in land purchased from African-American farmers and “historical injustice” meted out to the American-Indian community in the management of their funds.
Of the funds earmarked, $1.15 billion has been set aside by the Senate for claimants from the African-American farming community. The money will specifically address the needs of “late petitioners” or farmers who missed the filing deadline in a long-standing class-action suit that was settled back in 1999.
Commenting on the Bill’s passage the Network of Black Farm Groups and Advocates said, “Two years after the provision in the 2008 Farm Bill that provided the opportunity for late petitioners in the Black farmer lawsuit to file their claims against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Senate has finally passed an appropriations bill that will fund the lawsuit. It was a vote of unanimous consent... [and] a momentous occasion.”
An NBFGA official also said that at a time when people had decried the divisiveness that prevailed in Congress the Bill showcased an impressive collaboration between the Republicans, Democrats and the Obama Administration.
In addition to the African-American farmers’ cause the Bill set aside $3.4 billion for the American-Indian community under another long-standing case, Cobell versus Salazar.
According to the Bill’s mandate the funds would be disaggregated as $1.4 billion for settlement of accounting and mismanagement claims and another “$2 billion for addressing fractionation of individual Indian land” the National Congress of American-Indians said in a statement.
The tribes that would benefit from this settlement included the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona, the Crow Tribe in Montana, the Aamodt in New Mexico, and Pueblo of Taos in New Mexico.
Speaking after the Bill passed in the Senate Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said, “With the Senate’s approval of the Cobell settlement and... four Indian water rights settlements, this is a day that will be etched in our memories and our history books.”
Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk added that the water settlements in particular were nothing short of historic for Indian nations as they would meet the needs of tribes as well as neighbouring communities through provisions for sharing shortages and investing in critical infrastructure needs.
The Bill is still awaiting ratification by the House of Representatives and a Presidential signature. President Barack Obama has already indicated his intention to sign the Bill into law and in an earlier press conference described the settlement as “fair” and “just” and said his administration would “continue to make it a priority.”