House passes measure to resolve Morongo Band land dispute

The headquarters of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians in Banning, California. Photo from Morongo Band

The House approved H.R.387, the Economic Development Through Tribal Land Exchange Act, by a voice vote on Monday.

The bill settles a long-running dispute between the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the city of Banning in California and a non-Indian landowner. The measure was considered non-controversial because all of the affected parties support it despite a contentious history.

"This bill serves as a model for how land use issues can be addressed by communities coming together while upholding the sacred government-to-government relationship between the federal government and Indian tribes," Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-California), who introduced the measure in January, said yesterday.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: House Debate on H.R.387, the Economic Development Through Tribal Land Exchange Act

Under the bill, the tribe will acquire a 41-acre property from Lloyd Fields and the land will be placed in trust. A different 41-acre parcel owned by the tribe will be taken out of trust and conveyed to Fields.

The transaction ends an often heated disagreement between the tribe and Fields. The tribe placed a gate and guard shack on the reservation that controls how Fields accesses his property, which is surrounded by trust land.

Fields at one point sued the city to determine whether the road leading to his property was a "public" access point. The lawsuit was dismissed because the tribe wasn't involved and could not be joined without its consent under the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

As part of the bill, the tribe and the city are also exchanging some small parcels of land under the bill. The goal is to consolidate tribe's land base.

"This legislation is a commonsense approach that will benefit the tribe, the city of Banning, and the larger local economy," Rep. Norma Torres (D-California) said on the House floor. "Taking land into trust on behalf of tribes is one of the visible and impactful actions our government can undertake to uphold our trust obligations to the 567 sovereign tribal nations around the country."

The bill awaits consideration in the Senate.

Related Stories
House committee approves Morongo Band and Alaska Native bills (06/12)
House committee to consider two tribal and Alaska Native bills (6/10)

Join the Conversation
Trending in News
More Headlines