Legislation seeking to expand the federal government's authority to place land into trust for Indian tribes drew a mixture of praise and criticism Tuesday, as the contentious plan came before a congressional panel. Read the Press Enterprise story
Supporters argue that action is needed to end unequal treatment of tribes under current law. Opponents say the legislation ignores the concerns of non-Indians -- including Inland Southern California residents -- living near reservations. And, they say, it would pave the way toward unchecked proliferation of Indian gaming operations, particularly in California.
Debate over the U.S. Interior Department's power to take land into trust follows a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that the agency does not have the authority to do so for tribes that were not federally recognized in 1934, when the landmark Indian Reorganization Act was passed. Do we really want the BIA to have more power?
"This decision creates two classes of Indian tribes -- those that can have land in trust and those that cannot," Rep. Tom Cole told members of the House subcommittee on Indian affairs. "This two-class system is unacceptable."
Cole, R-Okla., authored one of two pending bills that would effectively reverse the Supreme Court and give the Interior Department power to take land into trust for tribes, regardless of when they became federally recognized. His version exempts land in Alaska from that authority, while the other version, introduced by Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., applies to all federally recognized tribes.
Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, (who gets a lot of money from tribes, and who fails to respond to Indians whose rights are violated.) is among 27 co-sponsors of the latter bill.
Broad Interior Department authority to place land into trust ignores concerns held by local communities affected by the expansion of reservations and gaming operations, critics say.
"Congress must deal wholly and fully with the impacts caused in states and local areas populated with communities of non-Indian citizens who will directly and financially suffer the impacts of federally created gaming," said Cheryl Schmit, director of Stand Up For California, a statewide group that focuses on gambling issues.
Supporters of the legislation note that 95 percent of the roughly 2,000 pending requests from tribes to have land taken into trust on their behalf are for non-gaming purposes. Schmit argued that tribes often change their stated plans for land once it is safely in trust, often to further their gaming operations. WE discuss that issue HERE where John Macarro said: , "Once the land is placed in trust, a tribe has complete zoning and planning authority over it and can change land uses just as a county or city can change or update its general plan or zoning designations
Currently, there are 78 tribal groups seeking federal recognition in California, including 11 in the Southern part of the state, Schmit said. Additionally, there are 135 pending requests for land in the state to be placed into trust for recognized tribes.
Locally, the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians is moving forward with a 535-acre project to include a new hotel and parking facility.
San Jacinto resident Jerry Uecker, who was at Tuesday's hearing but did not testify, said he is concerned about what the project will mean for the 1,200 people who live in three small communities adjacent to the land in question.
"The life they'd hoped for is at risk," he said.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Soboba leaders maintained that the project would not lead to expanded gaming, increase crime or hinder access to emergency services to the non-Indian residents in the area.
The proposed legislation would not affect the Riverside County tribe, since it was recognized prior to 1934.
Once land is into trust, tribes, including those like Pechanga, which practices apartheid on their reservation, can do what they want.