The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has named the members of a council created in a 2010 settlement to ensure Native American farmers and ranchers have access to Department of Agriculture programs.

The Council for Native American Farming and Ranching is part of the $680 million Keepseagle lawsuit settlement. The 1999 lawsuit was named after George and Marilyn Keepseagle of Fort Yates, N.D. It contended Indian farmers and ranchers were denied USDA loans over several decades.

The council will suggest changes to Farm Service Agency regulations and make proposals to improve Native American participation in the loan program and other USDA programs. The 16-member council reports to the secretary and is made up of Native Americans and four USDA officials. Its first meeting is this summer.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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