BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- More than 700 American Indians so far have signed onto a lawsuit against the U.S. Agriculture Department.
The $19 billion lawsuit, filed in November 1999, alleges that the Agriculture Department discriminated against Indians in the granting of loans over a 20-year period.
The Indians contend they were told USDA loans were not available when they were, that loans were delayed until it was too late to raise their crops or that the approved loans would be less than requested, causing financial and property losses.
"When the lender of last resort discriminates against a client ... there's something that makes Indian people stand up and say, 'enough is enough,"' said Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes.
The Agriculture Department has said it is committed to serving American Indians and in upholding their civil rights.
Bismarck attorney Sarah Vogel, who is working with the Washington, D.C., law firm handling the case, said lawyers are asking a judge to give the lawsuit class-action status and to order the government to stop proceedings on any foreclosures.
The government has filed a motion to dismiss the case.
A judge has not yet ruled on any of those motions.
The lawsuit mirrors a separate civil rights case brought by black farmers. Those farmers won a $2.2 billion settlement in April 1999.
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