USDA a 'very racist organization'
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SEPTEMBER 13, 2000

A lawyer who represents minority farmers in discrimination lawsuits against the the United States Department of Agriculture said the treatment of Native Americans by the federal government is a "national disgrace."

"Native Americans have been treated worse," than black farmers, said Alexander Pires. "They never get services, attention, loans."

Pires, minority farmers, and other advocates were harsh in their criticism of the USDA on Tuesday. Testifying on farming and civil rights before the Senate Committee Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry for almost four hours, witness after witness recounted the problems African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic, and women face within the Department, either as employees, or as farmers attempting to obtain loans or receive services.

But Pires said no one has it worse than Native Americans.

"It is almost impossible as a Native American to get a loan," Pires told lawmakers. "It's a very racist organization. It is white men running everything."

Pires is representing a group of Native American farmers who have filed a class action lawsuit against the USDA. Known as the KeepsEagle case, the suit was filed last year on behalf of 19,000 Indian farmers, seeking $19 billion, or $1 million for each farmer.

But Pires said the case has exploded since then. He said the lawsuit will probably end up representing some 40,000 to 50,000 Indian farmers.

Like African-American farmers who settled their discrimination lawsuit against the USDA and were also represented by Pires, the Indian farmers allege a long history of discrimination. They say they were unfairly denied loans or were told loans weren't available when they were.

Although African-American farmers settled their discrimination lawsuit against the government for $375 million in early 1999, advocates said yesterday the USDA has done little to act on the settlement. African-American farmers are supposed to receive $50,000 and have their debts to the USDA erased.

But some farmers haven't received their payments yet, witnesses said.

Native American farmers who want to participate in the KeepsEagle lawsuit must have farmed or ranched any time between January 1981 and the present and must have applied to a federal farm program and complained to the USDA or tribal authorities about discrimination.

Get the African-American case:
Pigford, Brewington, et al. v. Glickman (US District Court 4/99)

Relevant Links:
The Senate Committee Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry -
The United States Department of Agriculture -
The Farm Service Agency, USDA -
Civil Rights, USDA -
Guide to USDA Programs for American Indians and Alaska Natives -

Related Stories:
Feds, Black Farmers Settle (AP 1/99)
Black Farmers Protest Deal (AP 3/99)
Judge Gives Final Approval to Black Farmer Settlement (AP 4/99)
Approval of the Black Farmer Lawsuit Settlement (USDA 4/99)

Contact info for Conlon, Frantz, Phelan, Knapp & Pires:
Suite 700
1818 N Street NW
Washington, District of Columbia 20036-2477
Phone: (202) 331-7050
Fax: (202) 331-9306