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Duane Champagne: Agua Caliente Band offers leasing lesson

Filed Under: Business | Trust
More on: agua caliente, bia, california, duane champagne, self-determination
   

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians began to profit off leases when it took more control of the process, Duane Champagne argues:
The failure of leasing as a business plan is clearly seen through the experience of the Agua Caliente Band of Mission Indians. Often considered a rich Indian tribe, because they lease land in the lucrative Palms Springs resort real estate market, the Agua Caliente, for the most part, have not gained enough from their leases to keep most of the tribe out of poverty.

In 1959, after decades of lobbying, the Agua Caliente secured a Congressional act that enabled the tribe to make 99-year leases for high value allotted and tribal land in downtown Palm Springs. Ninety-two percent of the land was held in individual allotments, and 8 percent was held by tribal government. Individual allotment owners made leases, and the tribe made a 99-year lease to outside investors, who built the Palm Springs Spa and Hotel, which opened in the early 1960s. After 35 years of leasing land starting in 1960, over 50 percent of the tribe remained in poverty in 1995.

Most income from the Indian-leased land accrued to non-Indian business and home investors. Only when the tribe began to buy back the leases and take management over and make investments in the land and business assets, did the Agua Caliente make income sufficient to significantly improve tribal community well being. With help of a $9 million loan from the BIA in 1992, the Agua Caliente bought the Palm Springs Spa and Hotel. In 1995 the tribe initiated gaming and subsequently built two casinos and an additional hotel, all of which became very profitable. The Agua Caliente gain greater economic benefit when they managed investments and businesses on their collective tribal land.

Get the Story:
Duane Champagne: Collectively Managing Allotment Lands Is Better (Indian Country Today 12/10)


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