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Bureau of Indian Affairs Leader Puts Camp 4 Property into Trust for Chumash Tribe

A Bureau of Indian Affairs leader on Monday took a step to protect property for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, two weeks after a federal judge overturned an earlier action to put the land called Camp 4 into trust for the tribe.

Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney on Monday reaffirmed the 2017 decision to place the 1,400 acres making up Camp 4 into trust, and ensure the land will continue to be part of the tribe’s reservation.

The action also rejected appeals to the environmental process that led to the decision to take the land into trust.

“We are pleased with Assistant Secretary Sweeney’s decision to dismiss the 2014 appeals under her signature,” said Tribal Chairman Kenneth Kahn. “The 2017 decision was recently overturned on a technicality. There was never any concern about the merits of the application itself.  

“Assistant Secretary Sweeney’s swift action and subsequent signature confirms that,” Kahn added. 

This week’s action was the latest in a series of approvals and rejections regarding Camp 4 — for Chumash supporters and opponents in the Santa Ynez Valley and beyond.

On Feb. 13, District Court Judge Stephen Wilson overturned a 2017 decision by the BIA to place Camp 4 into trust, calling the action unlawful.  

That lawsuit filed by property owner Anne (Nancy) Crawford-Hall claimed that the former official who signed the order in 2017 did not have the right to do so in the waning hours of the Obama administration.

Sweeney, who was confirmed in 2018, re-analyzed the case and agreed with the earlier decision that appeals to the 2014 Notice of Decision are without merit, Chumash officials said. 

Tribal leaders contend Sweeney’s decision and her signature satisfy the legal requirement established the judge.

Santa Barbara-based attorney Barry Cappello, who represented defendants Crawford-Hall, San Lucas Ranch, LLC, and Holy Cow Performance Horses, LLC in the lawsuit against the federal government, disagreed. 

“This move by the assistant secretary simply is an act which ignores the specific wording of the judge's order,” he sad. "The matter is stayed until a final ruling by Judge Wilson. 

“We intend to be back in front of Judge Wilson so he can act on the environmental issues which are serious, and which the government has blatantly ignored despite Judge Wilsons specific directions,” Cappello added.

In addition to calling the former official’s action unlawful, the federal judge said other aspects of the challenge were “unripe,” but promised to revisit the matter after the BIA resolved the appeals. 

At the time, Wilson said he intended to place the case on the court’s inactive calendar. However, he told attorneys to notify him when the BIA issued a final action, saying he then would resolve any remaining causes of action from the lawsuit.

U.S. attorneys alerted the court on Tuesday about the BIA action.

The lawsuit also challeged whether the federal officials' action violated the National Environmental Protection Act by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement on the housing project proposed for the land. Plaintiffs also contend federal officials failed to adequately address regulatory factors governing fee-to-trust acquisitions.

The tribe purchased Camp 4 in 2010 and says it plans to build 143 housing units and a tribal administrative building while protecting the vast majority of the property as agricultural land or environmental open space.

“We are working tirelessly to provide housing for our membership,” Kahn said.. “We have one of the smallest reservations in the state at only 144 acres. Our small land base allows for only 17 percent of our families to live on the current reservation. 

“Housing on Camp 4 will allow our membership to come home to our ancestral land, live together and continue to thrive culturally.”

There are two routes to getting land placed into federal trust for a tribe, and Chumash leaders have pursued both.

In addition to the administrative avenue, land can be placed in trust through a legislative approach.

In January, Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican from Northern California, and Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, co-sponsored H.R. 317, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act of 2019.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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