House approves bills to transfer federal lands to tribes in California

Members of the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians perform a traditional dance at New Melones Lake in California. Photo by Bureau of Reclamation

The House returned from a holiday break and passed land-into-trust bills for two tribes in California on Tuesday.

H.R.4685, the Tule River Indian Reservation Land Trust, Health, and Economic Development Act, places about 34 acres of Bureau of Land Management property in trust for the Tule River Tribe. The land will help the tribe consolidate its holdings.

"Although this may not seem like a lot of land, every acre of land is important to our tribe," Vice Chairman Kenneth McDarment told the House Subcommittee Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs last month. "We have lived in California for thousands of years and the land and our language have been an intricate part of our culture. It is important for us to be able to control this particular parcel of land because it is situated at the main entrance to our reservation."

The House approved the bill by a voice vote after lawmakers from both parties spoke it its favor. There is no companion in the Senate at this point but that chamber could always take up H.R.4685.

H.R.3079 places about 80 acres of U.S. Forest Service property in trust for the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians. Plans call for the land to be protected and managed as part of the tribe's Murphy Ranch Conservation Area.

"The parcels are located in an area of great cultural and historical significance to the tribe and are contiguous to lands the tribe currently owns in fee simple, known simply as the Murphy Ranch," Rep. Jim Costa (D-California) said on the House floor.

The bill passed by a voice vote after a few minutes of debate. The Senate version is S.1822, which was approved by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in October 2015. It has not yet been brought up for consideration in that chamber.

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