Restoring Tribal Lands

Historically, the relationship between federal and state governments and Native Americans has been fraught with violence, mistreatment and neglect. In 1887, the General Allotment Act broke up reservation lands and resulted in the uncompensated loss of 90 million acres nationwide. Taking steps toward restoring tribal lands through fee-to-trust transfers is one way to correct past injustices, restore tribal sovereignty, self-determination and economic independence.

I have joined Senator Ben Hueso (D–San Diego) to co-author Senate Bill 712. The federal fee-to-trust application process establishes procedures that must be followed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribal applicants along with state and federal governments. During this process, local jurisdictions may comment on the effect the transfer would have on their tax rolls, along with other impacts.

SB 712 requires local governments to evaluate a federally recognized tribe’s fee-to-trust acquisition application based on its merits. This would include data provided by tribes on the economic benefits the tribes have on surrounding communities. It should be remembered that fee-to-trust land transfers involve lands already owned by the tribe that are being transferred to federal ownership to be held in trust – in effect – to become an integral part of the reservation.

Trust acquisitions give tribes the ability to improve housing, educational opportunities as well as to encourage agriculture, hunting and other activities that are essential parts of their culture. The bill was sponsored by the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians, and is supported by a number of California tribes including the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians.

On Sept. 8, I was very proud to present SB 712 on the Assembly floor. The bill passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support, and will now be returned to the Senate for final approval.