By Spencer S. Hsu and Krissah Thompson
October 19, 2010.
The Obama administration announced a $760 million settlement Tuesday to resolve charges by thousands of Native American farmers and ranchers who say that for decades the Agriculture Department discriminated against them in loan programs.
The farmers have fought for 11 years and through three administrations to resolve the case.
"The settlement announced today will allow USDA and the Native American farmers involved in the lawsuit to move forward and focus on the future," Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement.
The roughly 50-page agreement resolves a class-action lawsuit brought in 1999 by nearly 900 people, covering Department of Agriculture actions dating to 1981.
"This settlement marks a major turning point in the important relationship between Native Americans, our nation's first farmers, and the USDA," said lead plaintiffs' attorney Joseph M. Sellers, a partner at the Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll law firm in Washington.
Under the agreement, the department would pay $680 million in damages and forgive $80 million of outstanding farm loan debt.
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