House committee approves land-into-trust bill for Chumash Tribe

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: House Committee on Natural Resources Markup July 12-13 2016

The House Committee on Natural Resources approved a controversial land-into-trust bill for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians on Wednesday.

H.R.1157, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians Land Transfer Act, places about 1,400 acres in trust for the tribe. The measure cleared the committee by a bipartisan vote of 29 to 1.

“We were pleased with the committee vote,” Chairman Kenneth Kahn said in a press release. “The members of the House Committee on Natural Resources understood the importance of placing our land into trust in order to help us build a stronger community.”

The sole dissenting vote was cast by Rep. Lois Capps (D-California), whose district includes the reservation and the land in question. She spoke out against the measure during the committee's two-day markup session and said Congress should not interfere in what she considers to be a local dispute.

"A local resolution is the best way forward to help ease some of the local tensions and provide for the best long-term outcomes for the future of our community," Capps said on Wednesday.

A view of the Chumash Tribe's land-into-trust site in Santa Barbara County, California. Photo from Chumash EA

But other lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, rushed to the tribe's defense. They said officials in Santa Barbara County refused to engage in government-to-government talks until they were admonished at a heated hearing in June 2015.

"This bill shouldn't be necessary -- the Chumash own the land in question and wish to use their resources to construct just 143 homes on it," Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-California), who introduced the bill in February 2015, said on Tuesday.

Even though the county has since agreed to come to the table, LaMalfa said officials have turned the talks into a "stalling tactic" in hopes of letting the bill expire when the 114th Congress ends later this year. The next meeting with the tribe isn't scheduled to take place until next month.

"Now they've been talking but it's been delayed over over again," Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-California), the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs, said on Wednesday. "I'm hoping that through this action they will re-engage in those conversations and have these meaningful, local conversations that will allow the tribe and the county to come to that conclusion."

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has approved the tribe's land-into-trust application for the site but the county is pursuing an appeal. Passage of H.R.1157 would prevent at least a time-consuming administrative challenge although litigation might still be possible.

H.R.1157 also includes a prohibition on gaming. If the BIA finalized the application, the tribe would not be subject to any restrictions.

The bill can now be considered on the House floor.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notices:
Full Committee Markup [4pm session] (July 12, 2016)
Full Committee Markup [10am session] (July 13, 2016)

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