Bob Fields has a commentary on The Chumash getting 11,500 acres with approval from BIA, with no consultation to residents. Santa Barbara County officials and Santa Ynez Valley residents were stunned to learn of the Chumash Tribal Consolidation Area (TCA) approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
Now set up for fast-tracked annexation and removal from the tax rolls, this 11,500-acre area of the Santa Ynez Valley is twice the size of Carpinteria and Goleta combined.
Somehow, neither the BIA nor the tribe felt any obligation to inform the county or any of the affected property owners of this action. For all we know, an expansion of this TCA, including Solvang, has already been approved.
This unprecedented, and probably illegal action has begged the question - how could something like this happen?
It is easy to blame the Chumash tribal government, but its only offense is to seek unlimited personal gain with a callous disregard for the people they are affecting. In their defense, that is not particularly unusual behavior in America these days.
The core problem here, the source of all that is wrong with this picture, is the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It appears to be an out-of-control and corrupt federal government agency. Consider the following:
Since 2000, the BIA has allowed the salaries of its employees to be paid by a group of tribes calling itself the California Fee to Trust Consortium, this according to Capitol Weekly, a publication of Open California, a California Public Benefit Corporation. Not surprisingly, a 2006 Inspector General’s investigation found that tribes that put in the most money got the fastest fee-to-trust results. The Chumash are a major player in this Consortium, and by 2008 had already contributed $450,000. Only two tribes have given more, according to Capitol Weekly.
Draft minutes of the April 2013 meeting of the California Fee to Trust Consortium say, “tribes that pay into the Consortium get priority on their applications,” and member tribes were advised how to keep documents secret - even if requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
The BIA official who processed and approved the Chumash TCA has an interesting history. She has worked for BIA for 38 years and was instrumental in the development of the California Fee to Trust Consortium, according to a U.S. Department of Interior press release.
She was the BIA’s acting western regional director when she authorized the Ione Band of Miwok Indians 2002 leadership election, against the traditional tribal leaders’ wishes. The BIA opened the tribe’s membership rolls, and hundreds of people were added, including several BIA employees and dozens of their relatives. The tribe’s official membership grew from 70 to 535, and none of the new members were related to the original 70.
As a result, this BIA official and 68 of her relatives became enrolled members of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. Five new tribal leaders were elected, four of whom are related to this BIA official, according to an Associated Press story in February 2004.
The department investigated itself and found everything OK. Amador County is now suing the BIA, claiming it granted an illegal exception to this tribe to open a casino, according to Indianz.com.
So, that’s how it happens. The critical question is, how do we stop it from happening?
County supervisors finally started fighting this corrupt federal behavior and declared themselves, with thanks to Supervisor Doreen Farr. On a 4-1 vote, they have appealed this BIA action.
State officials must aggressively intervene to stop this federal giveaway of state lands to quasi-sovereign governments who freely consume local public resources but do not pay state and local taxes, and do not play by state and local rules.
Federal officials need to take responsibility for this situation and clean house at the BIA. For them, there is no one else to blame.