WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Following testimony yesterday from Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs on his California tribe's difficulties in placing land into federal trust, Chairman Don Young (R-AK) issued a harsh message to the County of Santa Barbara.
Congressman Young said that the County's inaction to meet with the tribe after the tribe submitted a cooperative agreement more than 370 days ago for ancestral land to be used for tribal homes, might "make good grounds for a piece of legislation to solve the issue."
Chairman Armenta said it was his tribe's desire to seek federal trust status for a 1,400 acres parcel located just two miles from the tribe's reservation. "Developing homes on this parcel, known as 'Camp 4,' would allow the tribe and its members to exercise true self-determination on the lands of our ancestors," he said.
He told the House Subcommittee that providing more housing for the tribe is the kind of progress the federal government envisioned when it began to support tribal economic development opportunities.
Chairman Armenta also told the House subcommittee of the problems his tribal nation has faced with getting 6.9 acres into federal trust for the purpose of building a museum and protecting a tribal cemetery and cultural site. "Twelve years and two Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approvals later, the decision is still being held up in the appeals process," he said.
Congressman Young asked Michael Black, Director of the BIA, U.S. Department of the Interior, why the BIA couldn't place the tribe's 6.9 acres into trust today. Black said that two local tribal opponent groups have appealed the BIA's decision once again and have tied up the process indefinitely.
"We can solve this congressionally, which would be my intent especially if there's a museum," said Congressman Young. "I guarantee if it's appealed again it will be solved congressionally."
Congressman Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM 3rd), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, said that he hoped the tribe and community could find a resolution and protect the tribe's 6.9 acres. "I would encourage the community – pertaining to the cemetery and the sacred site – that we think about it in that regard."
Marshall Grossman, partner at Bingham McCutchen and a witness testifying against the tribe, appeared to agree that the delay of the 6.9 fee-to-trust project was inappropriate. "I think what happened on that 6.9 acres is a tragedy and the delay is unconscionable," he said.
Chairman Armenta told the House Subcommittee that for 78 years, the fee-to-trust process has been essential for tribal governments to add land to their reservations. "Affirming the process means keeping tribal communities together and encouraging future generations to live on the reservation," he said. "For our tribe, it's about building a stronger community so we can build a future together...a legacy."
Congressman Dale Kildee (D-MI) quoted from the U.S. Constitution, citing the government's relationship with tribes and its recognition of tribal sovereignty. "The roots of our fiduciary responsibility to the Indian tribes do go back to the fact that we recognize them as sovereign," he said.
The oversight hearing, "Indian Lands: Exploring Resolutions to Disputes Concerning Indian Tribes, State and Local Governments, and Private Landowners Over Land Use and Development," was scheduled by the House Subcommittee to examine tribal efforts in acquiring land and experiences of local authorities and private landowners who oppose the fee-to-trust process. What they learn may determine how the Department of the Interior or Congress balances these sometimes competing interests.
Chairman Armenta said that he is proud of the economic opportunities tribal gaming has provided to the tribe and the community, but he wanted to make it clear that this was not about gaming. "Our efforts to add land to our reservation are about tribal self-determination and providing our members with housing opportunities."
The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is located in Santa Barbara County, California. The tribe owns and operates the popular Chumash Casino Resort on its reservation and also owns two hotels and a restaurant in the nearby town of Solvang – Hotel Corque, Hadsten House and Root 246 – as well as two gas stations in Santa Ynez.
SOURCE Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians