Native American Agriculture Fund: A new $266 million philanthropy via Keepseagle

Vincent Schilling

With $266 million, NAAF new charitable organization that will advocate and fund Native American agricultural endeavors

In the wake of the Keepseagle settlement, a. Federal courts have approved the appointment of fourteen trustees and an executive director. With over $266 million in funding, the NAAF is the largest philanthropic organization solely devoted to serving the Native American community.

In 1999, George and Marilyn Keepseagle, both Standing Rock Sioux, filed a suit claiming discrimination against Native American farmers. Nearly twenty years and hundreds of litigants later, The Keepseagle v. Vilsack case was a landmark case awarding hundreds of millions of dollars to Native farmers affected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The settlement included $680 million compensation fund with an additional $80 million in debt relief. A six-month claims process resulted in approved claims for over 3,600 Native farmers and ranchers.

But there was leftover monies that had not been claimed. After second compensation payments were made to successful claimants, and $38 million in grants were given to non-profit organizations, a cy pres fund was created for unclaimed amounts. To the tune of $266 million dollars.

This charitable trust fund is called the “Native American Agriculture Fund,” and its mission according to a release, is “to fund the provision of business assistance, agricultural education, technical support, and advocacy services to Native American farmers and ranchers to support and promote their continued engagement in agriculture.”

The Court approved the appointment of fourteen Trustees and an Executive Director. Those appointed to serve as Trustees and their Tribal affiliation are:

Elsie Meeks, Oglala Lakota – Board member of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board; former State Director, South Dakota Rural Development; rancher

Claryca Mandan, Three Affiliated Tribes – Lead plaintiff; Natural Resources Director, MHA; rancher

Richard Williams, Oglala Lakota – Consultant; former Director of the American Indian College Fund

Porter Holder, Choctaw – Lead plaintiff; Vice Chair, Council on Native American Farming and Ranching; rancher

Paul Lumley, Yakama – Executive Director, Native American Youth and Family Center

Charles Graham, Lumbee – State Representative, North Carolina General assembly

Michael Roberts, Tlingit – President and CEO, First Nations Development Institute

Sherry Salway Black, Oglala Lakota – Chairperson, First Peoples Fund; Board Member and Consultant to Johnson Scholarship Foundation

Pat Gwin, Cherokee – Sr. Director of Environmental Resources, Cherokee Nation; rancher and expert on Native American heirloom seeds

Dr. Joe Hiller, Oglala Lakota – Professor Emeritus, University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Jim Laducer, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa – Director and majority shareholder, Turtle Mountain State Bank

Dave Archambault, Sr. – Chairman, American Indian Business Leaders and education consultant (Stepped in for Marilyn Keepseagle, Standing Rock Sioux. Keepseagle strongly recommended Archambault.)

Ross Racine, Blackfeet – Executive Director, Intertribal Agriculture Council; rancher

Monica Nuvamsa, Hopi – Executive Director, The Hopi Foundation

According to the NAAF release, specifics are as follows:

The NAAF Trustees and Executive Director are engaged in strategic planning, selecting staff and advisors to carry out their required functions and all necessary activities to launch the NAAF in a thoughtful and comprehensive manner. Ensuring the funds available are used for the purposes outlined in the NAAF Trust documents is paramount, as is ensuring that the fund is managed professionally and in accordance with the law.

The court-approved trust agreement is irrevocable and cannot be changed. Among the key provisions of the trust agreement are the eligibility criteria for grantees. Eligible grantees include: tax exempt organizations described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; educational organizations; Community Development Financial Institutions that are also 501(c)(3) organizations; and instrumentalities of federal or state recognized tribes that furnish assistance designed to further Native farming and ranching, under certain conditions. In addition to meeting eligibility requirements, any grantee of NAAF will have reporting and recordkeeping requirements and comply with certain restrictions set forth in the Trust Agreement on how the funds may be used. Examples of some of the restrictions or limitations

on grant purposes include: funds cannot be used for lobbying or political activity, and there can be no grants to individuals or to support litigation. Further clarification on these issues will be forthcoming from NAAF.

The Trustees intend to begin hearing from Native farmers and ranchers as soon as NAAF’s website is launched. Meetings will be scheduled to engage in a series of listening sessions, and surveys will be conducted to ensure NAAF communicates effectively with those NAAF is designed to assist and to ensure the NAAF’s grantmaking resources are invested in areas of greatest importance to Native farmers and ranchers.

For questions about the NAAF, please reach out to Executive Director Janie Hipp at: 479-313- 3339 or

Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter -@VinceSchilling


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