Tribe gets US approval for 7-acre annexation
By Julian J. Ramos/Staff Writer/[email protected] Santa Maria Times 2012-06-27
The public will have a chance to speak before the county Board of Supervisors next month on a recent federal decision to take almost 7 acres of land into trust for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.
The property, whose annexation has been the subject of a long dispute, is directly across Highway 246 from the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez.
At their July 10 meeting, the board will hear from the public prior to going into closed session to deliberate on whether to file an appeal before a July 12 deadline set by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Interior Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA) in Virginia.
Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO), a staunch opponent of Chumash annexation to the reservation, is among the groups that has requested action by the board on the matter.
If made part of the reservation, the 6.9-acres — which the tribe already owns — would become sovereign tribal land, exempt from local and state taxes and local planning and zoning laws.
In a June 13 letter to Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the agency’s Pacific Region Director Amy Dutschke in Sacramento notified the tribe of its acceptance of the land into trust through the fee-to-trust process, which removes land from local jurisdiction and makes it part of an Indian reservation, under tribal authority.
Nerissa Sugars, spokeswoman for the Chumash, said the tribe has no comment on the acceptance at this time.
Tribal leaders have said they plan to develop a cultural center and museum, a retail building and a park on the vacant 6.9-acre property.
However, opponents have pointed out that nothing could stop the tribe from expanding gaming onto the property, or putting it to any other use, if the land becomes part of the reservation.
Other plans by the Chumash to annex property into the reservation, notably 1,400 acres they own about 2 miles east of the casino, have also been met with opposition.
In an email sent out Sunday night to its mailing list, POLO said 3rd District county Supervisor Doreen Farr, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, to place a public hearing on the appeal on the board’s July 10 agenda to consider a vote to file a notice of appeal.
“In this recent decision, the BIA is, yet again, blatantly ignoring harm to non-Indian individuals and decisions by the United States Supreme Court. It continues to give itself the authority to review its own decisions and the authority to create the process to support its own decisions,” POLO board president Kathy Cleary said in the email.
The annexation of the land was approved by the BIA in January 2005 and the approval was appealed in May 2005 by plaintiffs POLO, Preservation of Santa Ynez (POSY), Santa Ynez Concerned Citizens, and Women’s Environmental Watch of the Santa Ynez Valley.
The IBIA twice — in February 2006 and June 2007 — found a “lack of standing” for the groups to appeal the fee-to-trust application approval.
However, in 2009 POLO and POSY won the right to have standing to challenge the fee-to-trust process and take BIA or IBIA decisions into federal court.
POLO, which received notice of the latest decision on June 22, had been waiting for two years on an outcome regarding the property and its appeal.
Those answers are addressed in a May 23 determination by Michael J. Berrigan, associate solicitor for the Division of Indian Affairs.
In the letter to Dutschke, Berrigan said the Chumash were under federal jurisdiction in 1934 and therefore, based on a recent Supreme Court decision, they qualify to take land into trust and the Interior Secretary has the authority to take the land into trust for the tribe.
In February 2010, the plaintiff groups filed a 56-page document arguing their standing to seek an appeal of the fee-to-trust ruling and challenged the constitutional authority of the Secretary of the Interior — using recent Supreme Court rulings — to remove any land from state jurisdiction through the fee-to-trust process.
The groups also contended that the Chumash Indian tribe is not legally a tribal government and thus unable to take land into trust.
By contrast, the Chumash tribe states “Federally Recognized Tribe since 1901” on its logo and flag.
In February 2009, the Supreme Court limited the federal government’s power to take land into trust for the benefit of Indian tribes. The justices, in a 6-3 vote, concluded that the authority applies only to tribes that were under federal jurisdiction by 1934.