Archives for 2009

Reflections on the Cobell Settlement and Indian Land Consolidation

December marked an important milestone for Native American’s across the country. In a landmark 3.2 Billion dollar settlement, the Obama administration finally ended a 14 year class-action lawsuit brought against the U.S. Department of Interior by some 300,000 Native American land owners. In their suit, Native Americans argued that the government failed to pay them nearly 42 billion dollars in lease revenue collected by the government over the past 120 years serving as their self-appointed Trustee. After years of stalling with disingenuous accounting, racking up millions of dollars in legal fees charged to tax payers, withholding and even destroying evidence, a crime for which the Department of Interior was held in contempt of court, the government finally conceded and agreed to settle with the Plaintiffs. According to the lead Plaintiff, Eloise Cobell, “there is little doubt this is significantly less than the full amount to which individual Indians are entitled…Nevertheless we are compelled to settle now by the sobering realization that our class grows smaller each year, each month, and every day, as our elders die, and are forever prevented from receiving their just compensation. We also face the uncomfortable, but unavoidable fact that a large number of individual money account holders currently subsist in the direst poverty, and this settlement can begin to address that extreme situation and provide some hope and a better quality of life for their remaining years.”

Village Earth has reported regularly on the developments in this case for several years now as we are working at the front lines of helping families remove their lands from the Government’s “broken” leasing system, a term used by Larry Ecohawk, head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in a speech at last week’s Intertribal Agriculture Conference in Las Vegas and attended by Village Earth. While we do not challenge the Plaintiffs for their decision to accept such a low settlement, we do however find it deeply unsettling that desperation was a factor, a desperation largely born from the same injustices this case was all about. According to the Plaintiff’s website, the settlement guarantees Native Americans a “$1.4 billion Accounting/Trust Administration Fund and a $2 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund. The Settlement also creates an Indian Education Scholarship fund of up to $60 million to improve access to higher education for Indians.” Based on our experiences working with families and the Tribe assisting with the consolidation and utilization of fractionated interests were are particularly concerned with the proposal for the $2 Billion dollar Trust Land Consolidation Fund. According to the settlement agreement, this program will operate in accordance with the Land Consolidation Program authorized under 25 U.S.C. §§ 2201 also known as the American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA) and Indian Lands Consolidation Act (ILCA). According to the settlement agreement and consistent with the AIPRA the purpose of  the Trust Land Consolidation Fund shall be used solely for the following purposes: (1) acquiring fractional interests in trust or restricted lands; (2) implementing the Land Consolidation Program; and (3) paying the costs related to the work of the Secretarial Commission on Trust Reform, including costs of consultants to the Commission and audits recommended by the Commission. An amount up to a total of no more than fifteen percent (15%) of the Trust Land Consolidation Fund shall be used for purposes (2) and (3) above. The general impact of ILCA programs is a transfer of ownership of land from Individual Indians to Tribal Governments. While this may be an effective strategy for some Tribes, our experience working at the grassroots level on the Pine Ridge Reservation has shown us that many people on the reservation feel that the ILCA exploits the desperation of individuals, tempting them with short-term monetary gain but then leaving them with little long-term benefit. It has also caused tensions within families who feel their allotted lands, even though they are fractionated, should be retained for the benefit of future generations. Despite ILCA, other options exist for individuals, families, and communities to consolidate their lands including Tribal land exchange programs, partitioning, gift deeds, and creating wills however, right now, there is virtually no support for these programs. In fact, our research on Pine Ridge demonstrates that the Federal Government is a primary bottleneck in the whole process. Furthermore, when you consider that, in the case of the Pine Ridge Reservation, all Tribally owned lands have been tied up in loans to the Federal Housing Administration for the past 25 years, this has forced the tribe to lease their lands out, oftentimes to non-tribal members, greatly limiting their ability to develop these lands in a way that will benefit their members. A real solution to repairing the injustices of the past would look at each reservation in a holistic way and consider these differences. ILCA consolidation may not be the best option for each Reservation in those cases, supporting grassroots consolidation efforts my have a greater impact on promoting self-determination and development. Furthermore, it makes little sense to promote tribal and consolidation when at the same time you have the Tribe’s hands tied-behind it’s back with debt to where they benefit very little from those lands.

Settlement Agreement Reached in Cobell v. Salazar

Taken from:

A proposed Settlement has been reached with American Indian Plaintiffs in a long-running class action lawsuit against the federal government for mismanagement of individual Indian trust accounts and trust assets. The Settlement is with the Secretary of the Interior, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior-Indian Affairs, and the Secretary of the Treasury. The individual Indian trust accounts relate to land, oil, natural gas, mineral, timber, grazing, water and other resources and rights on or under individual Indian lands.

The class action lawsuit claims that the federal government failed to fulfill its financial responsibility for the individual Indian trust resulting in the loss, misdirection, and unaccountability of several billion dollars of monies held in trust or which should have been held in trust by the United States for Indian beneficiaries in Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts.

Under the terms of the Settlement in Cobell v. Salazar, the federal government will create a $1.412 billion Accounting/Trust Administration Fund and a $2 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund. The Settlement also creates a federal Indian Education Scholarship fund of up to $60 million to improve access to higher education for Indian youth. The Settlement also includes a commitment by the federal government to appoint a commission that will oversee and monitor specific improvements in the Department’s accounting for and management of individual Indian trust assets, going forward.

The Agreement creates two groups of Indians eligible to receive Settlement money – the Historical Accounting Class and the Trust Administration Class. Details of who is eligible follow.

What will IIM Account Holders and other Class Members get?

Most individual Indian beneficiaries are included in both Classes and will receive no less than $1,500 under the terms of the Settlement. There will be a number of distributions:

Each member of the Historical Accounting Class will initially be paid $1,000 after Final Approval of the Settlement. Members of the Trust Administration Class will be paid a “pro rata” share of the $1,412 billion Fund starting with a baseline of $500. This means that each Class Member will get at least $500 and then a percentage of the remaining Fund based on the number of individuals sharing in the Fund. Certain costs, reserves and attorneys fees will be paid out of this Fund before distribution of the pro rata share.

Village Earth Featured in Indian Land Tenure Foundation

USDA Misrepresents Situation of Native American Farmers

On the eve of important White House meeting with Tribal Leaders, USDA press release celebrates increase in Native American Farmers but omits information provided in an earlier report that explained the dramatic increase in the numbers as erroneous.

For Immediate Release

Village Earth – Nov. 4, 2009 – Today, the USDA issued a press release celebrating the increase in Native American Farmers and Ranchers since their 2002 Census of Agriculture. This comes on the eve an important and highly publicized meeting between the White House and Tribal representatives from across the country.

“In celebration of American Indian Heritage Month the U.S. Department of Agriculture today reported that there are nearly 80,000 American Indian operators on 61,472 farms and ranches across the United States. This represents an 88-percent increase over the number of American Indian farmers USDA counted in 2002.” 

Just a week earlier, Village Earth issued a similiar release but provided greater context for the extreme racial disparity that exists in agricultural production on most Native American Reservations. According to Village Earth, “this most recent report by the USDA is a gross misrepresentation of the data, suggesting that the increase is due to greater inclusion and outreach when in fact it is the result of the USDA expanding the sampling area of the Census from Reservations in just three States to Reservations nationwide.” Today’s press release omits information, provided in an earlier USDA report that explained the dramatic increase in the numbers.

“Part of the reason for the dramatic increase in the number of American Indian farmers is a change in the way the 2007 Census of Agriculture counted farm operators on reservations in the Southwestern United States. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service conducted a pilot program to count American Indian operators on reservations in three states — North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana — rather than simply counting a single reservation as a single farm operation. In 2007, the pilot program was extended throughout the United States. The majority of the increase in the number of American Indian operators occurred in just two states: Arizona and New Mexico, where the count increased from 694 in 2002 to 12,929 in 2007.” 

Today’s press release also failed to create a context for the larger picture of the racial disparity in agriculture that exists on most Native American Reservations today. While the USDA is correct to report that there are “nearly 80,000 American Indian operators on 61,472 farms and ranches across the United States,” that number only represent 1.6% of the total farmers and ranchers operating on Native American Reservation today, illustrating that non-native producers dominate on most Native American Reservations. In terms of income, the total value of agricultural commodities produced on Native American Reservations in 2007 totaled over $2.1 Billion dollars, yet, only 16% of that income went to Native American farmers and ranchers.

As reported earlier by Village Earth, the unequal land-use patterns seen on Native American Reservations today is a direct outcome of discriminatory lending practices, land fractionation and specifically Federal policies over the last century that have excluded native land owners from the ability to utilize their lands while at the same time opening them up to non-native farmers and ranchers. Discriminatory lending practices, as argued in court cases such as the pending Keepseagle vs. Vilsack, claim that Native Americans have been denied roughly 3 billion in credit.  Another significant obstacle is the high degree of fractionation of Reservation lands caused by the General Allotment Act (GAA) of 1887. Over a century of unplanned inheritance under the GAA has created a situation where reservation lands have become severely fractionated. Today, for a Native land owner to consolidate and utilize his or her allotted lands they may have to get the signed approval of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate land owners. As a result of this complexity, most Indian land owners have few options besides leasing their lands out as part of the Federal Government’s leasing program. Additionally, historical and racially-based policies by the Federal government have been designed to exclude Native American farmers and ranchers from utilizing their own lands, opening them up to non-natives for a fraction of their far market value.

USDA Census Reveals Non-Native Producers Dominate on Most Native American Reservations

By David Bartecchi and Courtney Hunter
Fort Collins, CO (Village Earth) 10/23/09 — Recently released 2007 Agricultural data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for Native American Reservations reveal that non-native agricultural producers dominate on most Native American Reservations in the United States. This is according to a study conducted by Village Earth, a Fort Collins based not-for-profit organization that works on indigenous land use issues on Native American Reservations in the United States and around the world. According to Village Earth’s study of the USDA data, in total numbers, Native Americans represent only 1.6% of the farmers and ranchers operating on Reservation lands. Today, for most Native American Reservations in the United States, more than two-thirds of the farms and ranches are controlled by non-natives. As might be expected, this disparity in land use has had a dramatic impact on the ability of Native Americans to fully benefit from their natural resources. Statistics on income reveal that the total value of agricultural commodities produced on Native American Reservations in 2007 totaled over $2.1 Billion dollars, yet, only 16% of that income went to Native American farmers and ranchers.

The USDA has conducted its quinquennial Census of Agriculture for every county in the United States since 1840 but it was not until 2007 when it began collecting this agricultural data for Native American Reservations. While Village Earth recognizes that this data-set is not complete, representing only 73 of the 388 Native American Reservations in the U.S., the results are consistent with data collected by a study from Colorado State University and with its experience working with Native producers on the Pine Ridge Reservation in their efforts to utilize their own lands.

The unequal land-use patterns seen on reservations today is a direct outcome of discriminatory lending practices, land fractionation and specifically, Federal policies over the last century that have excluded native land owners from the ability to utilize their lands while at the same time opening it up to non-native farmers and ranchers. Discriminatory lending practices, as argued in court cases such as the pending Keepseagle vs. Vilsack, claim that Native Americans have been denied roughly 3 billion in credit.  Another significant obstacle is the high degree of fractionation of Reservation lands caused by the General Allotment Act (GAA) of 1887. Over a century of unplanned inheritance under the GAA has created a situation where reservation lands have become severely fractionated. Today, for a Native land owner to consolidate and utilize his or her allotted lands they may have to get the signed approval of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate land owners. As a result, most Indian land owners have few options besides leasing their lands out as part of the Federal Government’s leasing program. Additionally, historical and racially-based policies by the Federal government have been designed to exclude Native American farmers and ranchers from utilizing their own lands, opening them up to non-natives for a fraction of their far market value.

The leasing of Indian Lands by the Federal Government dates back the the the Act of February 28, 1891 which amended the General Allotment Act to give the Secretary of the Interior the power to determine whether an Indian allottee had the “mental or physically qualifications” to enable him to cultivate his allotment. In such cases, the Superintendent was authorized to lease Indian lands to non-tribal members. In 1894, the annual Indian Appropriation Act increased the agricultural lease term to 5 years, 10 years for business and mining leases, and permitted forced leases for allottees who “suffered” from “inability to work their land.” Clearly designed to alienate lands from Native Americans, this act dramatically increased the number of leases issued across the country. For the Pine Ridge Reservation the practice was so widespread, that in a 1915 Government report, it was noted that over 56% of the adult males on the reservation were considered incapable of managing their lands and thus they were forcefully leased out. In 1920 the Government Superintendent for Pine Ridge wrote, “It has been my policy to insist upon the utilization of all these lands and the grass growing upon it and this has restricted members of the tribe owning stock to their own allotments, and such land adjoining that they have leased.” Not only were a great number of Native Americans denied the ability to utilize their allotted lands, many did not even receive the lease income collected by the Federal Government. Today, it is estimated that Native Americans are owed upwards of 47 billion dollars by the Federal Government for 120 years of oil, timber, agriculture, grazing and mining leases (See Cobell vs. Salazar).

According to Village Earth, the disparity in land use on Native American Reservations will only worsen with each new generation until Native Americans are given a fair chance at accessing the credit and other forms assistance available to non-natives. Additionally, the Government should honor its obligation as trustee and pay the over 47 billion dollars in revenue it has received for the leasing of Native American lands over the last 120 years. Lastly, the Department of Interior should place special emphasis on repairing the fractionation problem created by the General Allotment Act by providing information and support to individual allottees to consolidate and utilize their lands. In particular, speeding up the appraisal and survey process for which they are responsible.


A few of us, at Village Earth, recently watched Hernand de Soto’s video, titled “El misterio del capital de los indígenas amazónicas.” Village Earth is a non-profit organization that is currently working with Shipibo communities in the Ucayali River Basin and, consequently, we are interested in any proposals that might improve the livelihoods of indigenous peoples in the region. In this case We feel a certain urgency to respond given that de Soto uses examples of Native Americans from the U.S. state of Alaska. While we are not intimately familiar with the situation of Alaskan indigenous peoples, we have been working with the Lakota people from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (in South Dakota) for more than ten years. And given that indigenous territory is such an important issue in Peru, we are not sure that the Alaskan case is the most appropriate example. Whatever the case, we would like to share our perspective on the experience of partitioning, essentially privatizing, land on Pine Ridge Reservation.
First, a few important facts about indigenous peoples (Native Americans) in the US:
Approximately 24.5 percent of Native Americans, an estimated 800,000 people, are living in poverty at or below the national poverty level in the United States. Despite this dire economic situation, Native Americans own a great deal of land, approximately 112,637.29 square miles, second only to the federal government.
Yet, many Native American’s have not been able to fully benefit from these vast resourcesbecause of various contradictions in the Federal land tenure policy for Indian lands. In particular, the obstacles created by the General Allotment Act (GAA) signed in to law in 1887, which along with the Burke Act in 1906, led to a “de facto” privatization of indigenous lands. Most importantly, these laws broke apart communally owned lands into individual parcels, which enabled private non-indigenous interests to control the vast majority (and most productive) lands on Pine Ridge Reservation. Today, the Lakota are still struggling to get these lands back in their control
Village Earth became intimately aware of the impacts of Partitioning (privatizing) Reservation lands through our work with families on the Pine Ridge Reservation who are struggling today to reverse the effects of a policy implemented over 120 years ago. Today, nearly 60% of lands allotted to Lakota families during 1887 General Allotment Act are being leased out, often to non-tribal private interests for a fraction of the fair market value. This has had a devastating impact on the people on Pine Ridge. According to the USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture for U.S. Indian Reservations, the market value of agriculture commodities produced on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2007 totaled $54,541,000. Yet, less than 1/3 ($17,835,000) of that income went to Native American producers. How did the GAA contribute to this dire situation today?
After the period of European settlement in North America between 1492-1887, Native Americans were left with reservations consisting of only 150 million acres. Recognized through treaties as sovereign nations, these lands were largely unpartitioned and communally managed, a practice considered by the U.S. Government to be a non-productive and irrational use of resources. The Government’s solution was the General Allotment Act (GAA) of 1887, also known as the Dawes Severalty Act. The act partitioned reservation lands into 160 acre parcels for each head of family, 80 acre parcels to orphans, and 40 acres parcels to each child. After all the allotments were issued, the remaining reservation lands in the West was transferred to the Government who then made it available to white settlers free of charge as part of the Homestead Act. This amounted to a loss of over 60,000,000 acres, nearly 2/3rds of all Indian lands. Beyond the significant loss of lands, the GAA also created several challenges for the use and inheritance of the remaining lands that would have profound implications for future generations of Native Americans.
  • It broke apart communally managed lands into individually owned parcels, destroying the ability of many communities to be self sufficient on already limited and marginal lands.
  • It disrupted traditional residency patterns, forcing people to live on allotments sometimes far from their relatives, eroding traditional kinship practices across many reservations.
  • It destroyed communal control of lands, making it easier for private and government interests to gain access to the vast coal, oil, natural gas, agricultural, and grazing resources on Native American Reservations.
  • The GAA  never established an adequate system for how lands would be transfered from generatio
    n to generation. Since the practice of creating a Last Will and Testament before death was not common and in some cases was outright offensive to the traditional inheritance practices of some Native American cultures, these lands passed from one generation to the next without clear divisions of who owned what. Today, lands have become so fractionated that it is common to have several hundred or even thousands of landowners on one piece land. This has created a severe obstacle today for individuals and families wanting to utilize their lands as they need to get permission from the other land owners on decisions related to the land. With limited resources to deal with this situation, the only option for most families is to lease their undivided fractionated lands out – often times to non-natives.
  • Forced Fee Patenting, introduced with the 1906 Burke Act, amended the GAA to give the secretary of the interior the power to issue Indian Allottees determined to be “competent,” fee patents making their lands subject to taxation and sale. In other words, the government privatized indigenous lands. It as widely understood by government officials that lands, privatized under the Burke Act, would soon be liquidated. In 1922 the Government superintendent of the Pine Ride Reservation noted: “Careful observation of the results on the Pine Ridge reservation show that less than five percent of the Indians who receive patents retain their lands.” According to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, between 1997 and 1934, nearly 27,000,000 acres of land was lost as a result of privatization.
  • Indian Allottees determined to be “incompetent, ” under the Burke Act, were not allowed to live on or utilize their allotment, instead it was leased out by the Federal Government to oil, timber, mineral, and grazing interests. In many cases, Allottees did not even receive the income from the leases. This practice was so widespread that a 1915 Department of the Interior, Annual Report of the Pine Ridge Agency, nearly 56% of its residents were deemed “incompetent.” The longterm affect of this practice was how it physically and psychologically alienated Indian Allottees from their lands. For example many families today own land but have never lived on it, used it, or oftentimes, even know where it is located.
The various economic, social, and cultural disruptions created by the these acts over the last century is an underlying cause of poverty on many Native American Reservations today, negatively impacting housing construction, economic development, residency patterns, family and community cohesion, ecological health, cultural self-determination, and political sovereignty.
While we understand that this case, just as De Soto’s Alaskan case, is different in many ways than the case of indigenous peoples from the Peruvian Amazon, we belief that privatizing indigenous lands is dangerous. Indigenous people from Pine Ridge reservation are still struggling from political decisions that led essentially to the de-collectivization of their lands. It is also interesting to note that, in the case of Pine Ridge, as other Native American Reservations in the US, indigenous peoples have NOT been able to keep those resources (mineral, oil, etc.) that the government or private interests find profitable.


On Friday, September 25, members of the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative (LBCC) will be celebrating the donation of 6 head of buffalo that will be added to their herds. For the 6th consecutive year, Danylchuck Buffalo Ranch, based in Rye, Colorado, will generously donate buffalo to the cooperative. Members of the LBCC will be present at the celebration, making it an exciting opportunity for those interested in learning more about issues of sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty, and Lakota ranching ethics. The event will be free and open to the public, held at the Historic Federal Building, 421 North Main Street, Pueblo, CO.

The Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative is 100% Native American owned and operated, making it (to the best of our knowledge) the only Native American run small family cooperative of buffalo caretakers in the United States. The cooperative is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation, located in South Dakota. All of the meat produced by the group comes from buffalo that are raised on open ranges, grazing on wild grass, and respectfully harvested in the field. This culturally significant and ethical approach to meat production supports the members’ overarching commitments to the restoration of the northern plains ecology, self-sufficiency and strengthening the sovereignty and self-determination of the Oglala Lakota Nation and all indigenous peoples.

After becoming incorporated in the state of South Dakota and having its labels approved by the USDA, the LBCC began selling retail meat last January. The cooperative was the progeny of Village Earth’s (a Fort Collins based NGO, which supports sustainable development through empowerment) Adopt-a-Buffalo project. The project was started as part of Village Earth’s larger vision to support Lakota families in reclaiming and utilizing their legally allotted lands. Due to significant legislation produced in the late 1800s and early 1900s, on Pine Ridge Reservation over 60% of individual Native American land is being leased out, primarily by non-tribal members. Through the Adopt-a-Buffalo initiative, Village Earth helped recover over 2000 acres for buffalo restoration, releasing over 82 head of buffalo onto these lands. Due to the historical and spiritual significance of the buffalo for the Lakota people, Village Earth hopes this project will be a significant step in the process of restoring the reservation’s economy and strengthening cultural pride.

If you have more questions about the event, the LBCC, Village Earth, or any of the larger underlying issues, please contact David Bartecchi at (970) 491-0633 or [email protected]

High Country News Features Village Earth’s Work on Pine Ridge

Read about Village Earth’s work on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Aug 31, 2009 edition High Country News, the award winning news magazine that covers the American West’s public lands, water, natural resources, grazing, wilderness, wildlife, logging, politics, communities, growth and other issues now changing the face of the West. From the Northern Rockies to the desert Southwest, from the Great Plains to the West Coast, High Country News’ coverage spans 11 Western states and is the leading source for regional environmental news, analysis and commentary, making it an essential resource for those who care about the West.
The article (above) written by Josh Zaffos, profiles some of the Lakota families that Village Earth has been working with for several years to utilize and protect the remaining lands on the reservation. The article does an excellent job of describing the challenges faced by tribal members and they struggle to utilize their own lands. According to research done by Zaffos, “more than 19,000 members of the Oglala Sioux tribe have claims to more than 203,000 properties.” The article describes some of the history behind this situation.

Under the Dawes Act of 1887, the federal government doled out 160 acres of land to the head of each Indian family at Pine Ridge and other reservations. Congress could sell off any un-allotted lands, while the Bureau of Indian Affairs would maintain a tribal trust fund of revenues from mineral, oil, timber and grazing leases. (That trust fund is the subject of the ongoing lawsuit brought by Blackfeet tribal member Elouise Cobell in 1996.)

Then, in 1906, Congress passed the Burke Act, which allowed the BIA to measure Native Americans’ “competence” to handle their homestead lands, based on ancestry, cultural assimilation — even the length of a person’s hair. The assessments at Pine Ridge underscored official prejudice: By 1915, government agents had classified 56 percent of the Oglala Lakota living on the reservation as “incompetent,” and 700,000 additional acres were sold off before the practice ceased in 1934. Other parcels allotted to “incompetent” Indians were shifted into the leasing system, which has served mostly non-Native ranchers. But “competent” Indians didn’t make out much better, since they were forced to pay taxes on their allotments. Ninety-five percent of these lands were eventually sold to non-Natives for a fraction of their real value.

And the allotment system had lasting cultural impact: By chopping up the land base, it effectively ended communal hunting practices. As the original allottees died and their children inherited the land, parcels were fractionated among dozens — sometimes hundreds — of heirs.

To read the entire article go to

Indian Trust Lead Plaintiff Expresses Disappointment on the Appeals Court Ruling


WASHINGTON, JULY 24 — Today’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the Indian Trust class action lawsuit will prolong what the court has said repeatedly has lasted too long. The case is now in its 14th year.

Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff for the class of 500,000 individual Indians, expressed disappointment in the ruling, commenting that “it is difficult to understand why the court is reluctant to enforce binding trust law and controlling Supreme Court precedent and ignore the government’s mismanagement of the Individual Indian Trust.”

For hundreds of thousands of Indians, including children, the elderly, and the infirm who depend upon their trust funds for food, clothing, shelter, and health care, this ruling means that many more years will pass before they can hope to secure trust funds that the government has withheld unconscionably and in breach of trust duties that it has owed for generations.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s $455.6 million award in restitution, stating that the district court may not relieve the government of an accounting duty as a matter of law. However, at the same time, the court cast aside settled law, reversed its earlier decisions, and decided that the government need only account for funds that it can identify easily, those that the court described as “low hanging fruit.” Moreover, the court has accepted as good enough for government work its systemic trust records destruction and suggested that it would be unfair to force the government to perform and accurate and complete accounting because its historical breaches of trust now make that accounting too expensive to render.

The Cobell plaintiffs will continue to seek justice in this case, no matter how long that will take. Accordingly, further appellate review will proceed in addition to a request for the district court to place the IIM Trust into receivership to ensure that the beneficiaries their assets finally receive the protection they are owed under the law.

For additional information:

Bill McAllister


202-257-5385 (cell)

Lakota Buffalo Caretakers: A New Paradigm of Agriculture?

3685767798_2b6ec9f73e_bIt is not difficult to argue the case that modern agriculture has reached a crisis stage. We have reached a point where must accept that change must occur, where common-place practices must abandoned, where long established institutions collapse, and ultimately, a new paradigm emerges. It could also be argued that the crisis we are experiencing in modern agriculture is part of a larger crisis evidenced by global warming, the burgeoning divisions between rich and poor, and most recently, the collapse of global capital markets. This can be a disquieting time indeed since, while its clear that change must occur, nobody is quite sure what that change will look like. Speaking about the broader global transition taking place, Colombian born Anthropologist, Arturo Escobar has argued that “Epistemologically this move entails a transition from the dominance of modern science to a plural landscape of knowledge forms. Socially, the transition is between global capitalism and emergent forms of which we only have glimpses in today’s social movements.” Rather, he argues that the emerging social movements, like the growing indigenous rights movement, represents the best hope for reworking many of the problems faced by global capitalism.

In a small way, with our work on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, we are seeing how this “reworking” can manifest. In particular, some of the challenges we have faced in developing a market and supply chain for meat from buffalo raised by a cooperative of Lakota Producers. While, Village Earth has been working to support Lakota buffalo caretakers on Pine Ridge since early 2003, it wasn’t until 2006 when they started talking about forming a cooperative. Over the next few years we had numerous meetings, did our homework, drafted bylaws and articles of incorporation, and by August of 2008 the coop was officially recognized in the State of South Dakota. Less than four months later, the cooperative filled the first order under its label “Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative (LBCC).” To facilitate distribution in northern Colorado (where the best market exists) we helped establish a independently managed L.L.C. Called “Allied Natural Meats.” While it has been less than a year where the coop has been selling its products on the market, we have already learned a great deal where the points of conflict exist between the old paradigm of raising and selling meat, and possibly a new paradigm emerging from the LBCC but informed at a deeper level by the Lakota worldview.

In the dominant paradigm, most livestock, spend only the first six months of their lives in open pastures. After that time they are moved to feedlots where they often have less than 13 square-feet of space per animal, fed a mixture of high-fat grain and ground-up poultry waste until the age of 14 months where they are trucked-off to slaughter houses for processing. While we all may be familiar with this process for cattle, these same practices are bleeding into the buffalo industry, as evidenced by the buffalo feedlot that is being built soon Weld county Colorado, just a few miles from Village Earth’s offices. In fact, most buffalo sold in stores (even health food stores), often spend the last 90 days in a feedlot and then trucked to a slaughter facility, even when they say “grass fed” on the label.

In the Lakota worldview, Buffalo are sacred, and killing one is comparable to killing a human. In fact, one elder explained this to me once by pointing to group of people talking around a fire and asked, “what do you think would happen to the social order of that group over there if we killed three of them?” It is this worldview that makes the notion of sending one to a feedlot an abomination. The Lakota alternative to this is raising buffalo their entire lives on open pastures and respectfully ending their lives in the field. In fact, some families have made this into a sort of right of passage for young men on the reservation, preparing them in ceremony to take the life of the buffalo in a respectful manner. It is said that when this honored, that the animals, within that particular family, are much calmer during the harvest. However, with current USDA regulation, this is a costly way of harvesting animals since it requires the use of a mobile-processing truck to drive out to the pasture so the animals can be gutted and cleaned within 45 minutes of the kill. Yet, despite the fact that the families could be saving approximately $180 per animal by trucking live animals directly to a slaughter facility, and despite the fact that scheduling the truck is very unpredictable, considering it is not able to drive onto their pastures if they are wet or covered in snow, which just this spring caused a 6 week delay in harvesting, despite all this, they have chosen to do it this way.

Another practice that many buffalo ranchers are adopting from the industrial cattle industry is manually weaning calves from their mothers just a few months after they’re born. The advantage that these producers find from doing this is that the calves will start on grain more readily and fatten quicker. However, by doing this you break down the natural clan structure of the buffalo. Bison are herd animals but within each herd there may exist several smaller sub-clans or families. According to legend, the Lakota derived their social structure of the Tiwahe (family) and Tiyospaye (community) from the buffalo. Furthermore, traditional production methods drive producers to harvest their animals at approximately 30 months, the time needed for optimal weight gain. Weaning and always harvesting at the same age destroys the natural social structure of buffalo. According to Ed Iron Cloud from the Knife Chief Buffalo Nation (a member of the LBCC), “it’s like having a bunch of adolescents running around, you NEED the older bulls to protect the herd and you need to elders to keep the social order.” A social principle mirrored in the Lakota culture.

While these are just a few anecdotes, I think they illustrate some of the conflicts that exist between the old paradigm and possibly a new one emerging. One thing that I have really learned from these experiences is that the connecting tissue in this entire system is the consumer. As its name implies, Allied Natural Meats is committed to working with the LBCC to find ways around these conflicts – to “rework” things as Escobar would say. A large part of this has been educating retailers and consumers about why the meat costs more than typical buffalo meat or why things may be delayed a few weeks. This has allowed the LBCC to raise the buffalo in a way that is consistent with their worldview. If in some way this represents a small transference of worldviews that might contribute to the broader social transformation that Escobar has theorized is unclear. What is clear to me is that we can not rely solely on science and the market to solve the problems we face today. Many these problems were already worked-out centuries ago, the answers have just been suppressed, erroneously delegitimized and/or taken for granted. The best way for us to uncover these answers is to work as allies, and rework these lines of conflict.

For more information about the LBCC visit their website at:

To learn more about Village Earth’s work on the Pine Ridge Reservation visit: //



WASHINGTON, May 11 — A federal appeals court was told today that it should offer 500,000 Native Americans some form of “rough justice” as a result of the federal government’s acknowledged mismanagement of their trust accounts.

Attorney Dennis M. Gingold, who represents the Indians in a 13-year-old class action lawsuit, said justice for the Native American trust account beneficiaries cannot be complete because so many records of what happened to their trust lands and funds are missing.

That means some form of “rough justice” is required, Gingold said, adding that any resolution of the case must be fair.

“If not, we’ll all be here another 13 years,” Gingold told a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Government lawyers said they want the case declared at an end and the Indians given nothing at all. Alisa Klein, an appellate lawyer with the Justice Department’s Civil Division, argued that the Indians are due nothing.

Plaintiffs opposed an llth-hour effort by the Osage Tribe to intervene in the case and take control of its members’ individual trust accounts. Plaintiffs have fully represented the interests of individual Osage tribal members from the outset of the litigation in 1996.

Individual Osage tribal members are clearly part of the lawsuit, because their trust accounts were always classified as the property of individuals and not the tribe, Gingold told the court.

After the hour-long hearing, Lead Plaintiff Elousie Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation from Browning, Mont., said that the government continued to mislead the appeals court about how the trust accounts have been managed. The accounts have never been audited, she noted, pointing out that the lower court had held an accounting remains “impossible.” “I am very optimistic,” she told reporters. “The court asked very good questions.”

As for the idea of “rough justice,” she said: “We all understand what’s going to happen.” She said any sum that is finally approved by the court will be distributed after additional hearings and under court supervision.

The three-judge panel gave no indication when it would rule.

The Indian Trust was established by Congress in 1887. It included millions of acres of valuable lands in the West owned by individual Indians, whom lawmakers believed could not manage those lands. That job was given to the Interior Department, which has repeatedly acknowledged in the lawsuit that it mismanaged the trust accounts.

For additional information:
Bill McAllister (media calls only)

Spring 2009 European Speaking Tour

Village Earth and Henry Red Cloud will be hosting its third speaking tour in Europe this spring of 2009. Below is our tentative schedule. Please keep checking back for updates.
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Hamburg im Metropolis – Kino, Steindamm 52/54

Einlass: 18.30 Uhr, Beginn: 19.00 Uhr

Mit 45 Minuten langen Dokumentarfim

Veranstalter: GfbV Hamburg, Metropolis – Kino

Eintritt: 6.-€ (Für die Miete des Kinos) Um Spenden wird


Berlin/Kreuzberg in der ,,Alten Feuerwache“

Bernburger Str. 35

Veranstalter: Bildungswerk Berlin der Heinrich Böll Stiftung

in Kooperation mit der GfbV Berlin und ASNAI

Beginn:19.00 Uhr, Eintritt: um Spenden wird gebeten

Schulveranstaltung am Morgen

Felix Klein Gymnasium


37073 Göttingen

Beginn: 12.00 Uhr

Veranstalter GfbV Göttingen und Felix Klein Gymnasium

– Abendveranstaltung:

Göttingen, Victor Gollancz Haus der Gesellschaft für

bedrohte Völker, Geiststr.7

Veranstalter: GfbV Göttingen

Eintritt: um Spenden wird gebeten

Beginn: 20.00 Uhr

99817 Eisenach, im Luthergymnasium, Predigerplatz 4

Veranstaltung für Schulklassen

Veranstalter: GfbV Eisenach in Zusammenarbeit mit

dem Luther Gymnasium

Beginn: 10.30 Uhr

Öffentliche Abendveranstaltung im Luther Gymnasium

Predigerplatz 4, 99817 Eisenach

Beginn: 19.30 Uhr, Eintritt: um Spenden wird gebeten

Offenbach im Kinder-Jugend und Kulturzentrum KJK,


Einlass: 18.30 Uhr, Beginn: 19.00 Uhr, Eintritt: 2,-€

Ab 21.00Uhr: separates Konzert mit der Native American Punk

Band Blackfire, Eintritt: 5.-€

Veranstalter beider Veranstaltungen:

Tokata-LPSG RheinMain e.V., Kinder-Jugend- und

Kulturzentrum KJK

München im EineWeltHaus, Schwanthalerstr.80

Einlass: 19.30 Uhr, Beginn: 20.00Uhr, Eintritt: 5.-€

Veranstalter: Aktionsgruppe Indianer&Menschenrechte;

GfbV München/Oberbayern

      1. Linz/ Österreich GfbV/ Oberösterreich
      • Geschlossene Veranstaltung, Teilnahme auf Anfrage


Universität für Bodenkultur, Wien

Peter-Jordanstr. 65,1190 Wien

Hörsaal EG 03, Beginn: 19.00 Uhr

Eintritt: um Spenden wird gebeten

öffentliche Verkehrsmittel: 10A, 37A,40A

Veranstalter: AKIN


geschlossene Veranstaltung in Wien

Veranstalter: Netzwerk für Wirtschaftsethik ÖNWE


Am Vormittag Schulveranstaltung: James – Loeb Grundschule

in Murnau

– Am Abend, Veranstaltung im Hotel Sonne, Bahnhofstr. 22,

82418 Seehausen

Beginn: 19.00 Uhr

Kontakt und Veranstalter: Heino Wille

Untermarkt 45, 82418 Murnau


88131 Lindau, Zeughaus, Eingang Paradiesplatz 4

Beginn 20.00 Uhr, Eintritt: um Spenden wird gebeten

Veranstalterin: Begegnungs-Reisen GmbH, Lindau


Lakota Kulturtag in Mothen-Mellatz

in der Fa. Brugger Solar, Mothen59, 88178 Heimenkirch

Beginn: 10.00 Uhr Ende: ca. 17.00Uhr

Unkostenbeitrag für den Tag auf Spendenbasis ab 50.-€

Veranstalterin: Begegnungs-Reisen GmbH, Lindau

Zürich / Schweiz im NONAM-Nordamerica Native Museum

Seefeldstraße 317, CH 8008 Zürich

Einlass: 17.30 Uhr, Beginn: 18.00Uhr

Eintritt: um Spenden wird gebeten

Veranstalter: Incomindios


Salle polyvalente de Quingey (25km de Besançon)
Evènement organisé par les Collectifs MEUH et TRI
Début : 20.00

Comité Soutien Aux Indiens Des Amériques
21 Ter, Rue Voltaire
75011 Paris, France
01 43 73 05 80
Organisé par CSIA
Début: 19.30

Université de Metz, île de Saulcy
En partenariat avec “Les Amis du Monde Diplomatique” et “Troubadours Oubliés”
Début: 20.00

Luxemburg, Haus vun der Natur, 5 route de Luxembourg,

L-1899 Kockelscheuer

Beginn: 20.00Uhr, Einlass: 19.00 Uhr

Veranstalter: Haus vun der Natur

Eintritt: um Spenden wird gebeten

Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Launch Retail Meat Sales

This weekend, the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative launched retail sales of packaged grass-fed buffalo meat raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative (LBCC) is a 100% Native American owned and operated cooperative association on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Its membership is made up of small family buffalo caretakers who respect the buffalo and the land.

Buffalo raised by members:

  • Live on open ranges, never in feedlots
  • Eat wild grasses their entire lives
  • Are Free from antibiotics and hormones
  • Respectfully harvested in the field

Members of the LBCC are committed to the restoration of the northern plains ecology, self-sufficiency and strengthening the sovereignty and self-determination of the Oglala Lakota Nation and all indigenous peoples. To the best of our knowledge, the LBCC is the only Native American run cooperative of small family buffalo caretakers in the United States.

Village Earth helped to establish the LBCC starting in 2007. The LBCC was officially incorporated in South Dakota August of 2008. The LBCC has partnered with the Fort Collins based Allied Natural Meats, LLC. which will function as its fair-trade distribution partner. The LBCC currently has the capability to ship wholesale orders throughout the country. However, at this time, the LBCC and Allied Natural Meats, LLC are only set up to do online retail sales in the Fort Collins, Colorado area but hope to be selling national via mail order soon. For more information please visit the LBCC website at