In response to public uproar over the Chumash Tribe’s attempt to acquire additional public land through an application submitted to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), tribal chairman Vincent Armenta informed the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors earlier this month of the tribe’s decision to withdraw the application.
In September, the local Chumash tribe of the Santa Ynez Valley submitted their application, entitled, Tribal Consolidation and Acquisition Area Plan (TCA), to request 11,500 acres of off-reservation land — 9,500 acres of which is under private ownership. The application was submitted without notifying the public, and shortly after its submission, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors filed an appeal of the tribe’s request to the BIA, with a 4 to 1 vote.
The application’s submission attracted much criticism from the general public, resulting in a decision to withdraw the TCA plan in order to avoid potentially costly litigation from the County. Withdrawing the plan does not, however, change the tribe’s decision to convert Camp 4 — a plot of off-reservation land previously purchased by the tribe — into a Fee-to Trust, or FTT. An FTT is basically a transaction that takes the land out of state and local control, putting it under a federal title and then placing it under the control of an Indian tribal government. The conversion will have no process of reversal.
According to Sam Cohen, legal advisor for the Chumash Tribe, the Board of Supervisors decided to take a confrontational route in reversing the TCA plan, rather than working on a government-to-government basis. Cohen said the tribe decided to withdraw the application in an effort to reduce the negative feelings that the opposition directed toward them.
“The opposition … has gone out of their way to create speculation and fear surrounding the TCA and plans to take Camp 4 land into Fee-to-Trust (FTT),” Cohen said. “In an effort at least to minimize fear in the people living in the TCA land, many of whom mistakenly believed that the TCA affected their property, the tribe has had the courtesy and favors to withdrawal the TCA.”
According to Cohen, the TCA was simply a planning jurisdiction between the tribe and the BIA, with the understanding that Camp 4 land fit into the tribe’s ancestral territory. Cohen said the plan carried no land-use implications nor did it impact existing property.
“The TCA was sort of a preapproval of the historical ties of the tribe to the land,” Cohen said. “Arguably, the bureau will have to re-review the historical ties to the land and remake that determination, but other than that, the TCA did not do anything.”
He said the TCA documented the tribe’s historical ties to the land, adding that the withdrawal simply means that there does not have to be further speculation surrounding land-use. However, through this legislature the tribe will continue its quest to take Camp 4 land into FTT for the purpose of housing tribal members.
“The Tribe has always planned to take the Camp 4 land into Fee-to-Trust, either through administrative or legislative means,” Cohen said.
In this case, the application for the TCA — which includes Camp 4 — was the “administrative” means, while taking the bill to the land to Fee-to-Trust is the “legislative” means, Cohen said.
Under the Federal Government’s land acquisition policy 25 C.F.R. 151.3, land can be moved into FTT for the purpose of self-determination, economic development and housing . Armenta said the tribe aims to move Camp 4 land into an FTT to provide housing for the expanding number of tribal relatives.
“Members of the tribe, their children and their grandchildren need a place where they can live and raise their families on tribal land governed by their own tribal government,” Armenta said. “The Camp 4 land is ideal.”
The plans for Camp 4 remain controversial despite the Tribe’s decision to withdraw the TCA, drawing criticism from individuals like Cheryl Schmit, director of Stand Up For California, a statewide organization that combats tribal gambling. Schmit said the trust was not necessary for the Tribe to provide housing for their members.
“This is a very successful tribe, a national model of success,” Schmit said. “They’ve done really well in their hotel and casino ventures. They can provide for their tribe without moving that land into trust.”
Representative Lois Capps said in a statement regarding the FTT that she did not support the legislation because she believes “a local resolution between the County and the Tribe is best for all parties involved.”
A version of this article appeared on page 3 of October 30th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.