The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians land-into-trust site, also known as Camp 4, in Santa Barbara County, California. Photo: Chumash Facts

Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians vows to keep fighting for homelands

A federal judge has dealt a setback to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, whose homelands in southern California have long been the subject of controversy.

In a decision issued on Wednesday, Judge Steven Wilson said the Bureau of Indian Affairs should not have placed a 1,400-acre site in trust for the tribe. He determined that the Obama-era official who signed the approval document lacked the authority to do so.

"Only the Assistant Secretary had the authority to issue a final decision," Wilson wrote in the ruling.

Since the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs was vacant at the time of the January 20, 2017, decision, Wilson concluded that the BIA's trust acquisition of the property known as Camp 4 was invalid. The document instead was signed by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

But the tribe, which was not a party to the litigation, is vowing to keep fighting for its homelands.

"The tribe purchased the Camp 4 property in 2010 with the intention to build homes for our tribal members, and nine years later, we are still working on making that dream a reality. Camp 4 has always been historic tribal land, and the tribe will continue to fight to ensure adequate housing for its members," Chairman Kenneth Kahn said in a statement to KEYT.

The decision does not disrupt a historic intergovernmental agreement the tribe reached with Santa Barbara County to address housing and other development at Camp 4. As part of that agreement, the county dropped litigation affecting the land-into-trust application for the site.

The ruling also does not prevent the tribe from going through the land-into-trust process again for the site. But the tribe is also asking Congress to reaffirm the BIA's decision through H.R.317, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act.

The bill reaffirms the trust status of Camp 4. It also bars the tribe from engaging in gaming on the land.

A prior version of the bill was easily passed by the Republican-controlled House during the 115th Congress. It also was approved by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs after a hearing last April.

A witness at the hearing said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California), who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president and has a history of challenging tribal land-into-trust applications when she served as attorney general of California, contributed to the slow movement on the bill. It never came up for a vote in the Senate before the end of the 115th session.

H.R.317, the new version, has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, which is now under Democratic control. Leaders of the panel -- including Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), the vice chair, and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona), the chair of the newly established Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States. -- are vowing to advance pro-tribal priorities in the 116th Congress.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Crawford-Hall v. United States.

Read More on the Story
Chumash Tribe Chairman responds to judge's ruling regarding Camp 4 (KEYT February 14, 2019)
Judge rules Camp 4 trust decision 'unlawful' (KEYT February 14, 2019)
Judge invalidates decision to put Camp 4 into Chumash Reservation (The Santa Ynez Valley Star February 14, 2019)
Federal Judge Overturns Decision to Place Chumash Camp 4 Property Into Trust (Noozhawk February 13, 2019)

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