Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta, center, and Santa Barbara County Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, right, testified Wednesday on behalf of HR 1157, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians Land Transfer Act of 2015. (Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians photo)

Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta testified Wednesday before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs on behalf of HR 1157, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians Land Transfer Act of 2015.

Introduced by California Rep. Doug LaMalfa and co-sponsored by 10 additional bi-partisan members of Congress, HR 1157 proposes to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for the benefit of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

In his testimony Wednesday, Chairman Armenta provided a brief history of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians as well as an explanation of the tribe’s need for housing and its desire to build homes for tribal members and their families on Camp 4, the 1,400 acres of ranch land the tribe purchased in 2010.

Chairman Armenta concluded his testimony by saying that although the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and its anti-tribal allies tried to block the tribe from placing its 6.9-acre parcel into federal trust for nearly 14 years, the tribe prevailed and will also prevail on getting its Camp 4 land placed into trust.

Santa Barbara County Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino also testified before the Subcommittee on Wednesday and said HR 1157 is a piece of legislation that should have never been necessary.

“I believe the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has failed to perform its responsibilities as the local jurisdiction,” he said to the subcommittee. “I warned my colleagues that if we failed to acknowledge the tribe as a federally recognized government entity it would lead to congressional action such as HR 1157. That warning fell on deaf ears.”

Subcommittee Chairman Don Young of Alaska thanked Supervisor Lavagnino for testifying and said of the county’s treatment of the tribe, “This issue has been around for a long time. If I thought for a moment it was true negotiation, government-to-government, I wouldn’t have this hearing. But I don’t see that effort. I see a total lack of consideration. We’re going to try to move this piece of legislation.”

Santa Barbara County sent the county’s chief executive officer, Mona Miyasato, to speak in opposition of the bill. Some members of the subcommittee expressed concern and confusion over Santa Barbara County’s lack of willingness to work with the tribe on a government-to-government basis and directed their comments and questions to Miyasato.    

Ranking member Dr. Raul Ruiz of California said, “I’m wondering what is the heart of this issue. I want to make very clear that they are a government. They are a sovereign nation. And for any institution in the United States not to recognize that is backwards.”

Congressman Jeff Denham of California asked Miyasato, “What I continue to not understand over the years, and the committee members of this committee are failing to understand, is if the housing development is less dense than the one next to it, if the ag use is currently being used for ag use and they are willing to offer more than ten times than what you get in property values today for that tax revenue, what is it you’re looking for, other than just holding this issue up?”

Congressman LaMalfa commented on the bill’s contribution to the county.

“I think what everybody needs to recognize here is that the county actually will do better under this legislation than the open-endedness of what a BIA decision would do,” he said. “The legislation provides for certain aspects that the county can predict whereas the tribe wouldn’t necessarily have to do certain things under a BIA decision.  So there’s really not a downside for the county other than maybe they enjoy being a roadblock.”

LaMalfa also responded to Miyasato’s testimony: “You mentioned earlier that the legislation would be a shortcut to getting to their end goal of providing housing. They’ve already owned the land for about five years, but even more so you point back to the taking into trust recently six acres adjacent to the trust land they have, which was a 14-year lawsuit-filled process. How can you really think at this point this looks like a shortcut when they’ve waited this long?”

Nearly three years ago Chairman Armenta testified before the subcommittee on the tribe’s difficulties in placing land into federal trust.

“In 2012, Chairman Young said that Santa Barbara County’s inaction to meet with the tribe after we submitted a draft Cooperative Agreement, might ‘make good grounds for a piece of legislation to solve the issue.’ He was right and here we are,” he said.

There are two ways for a tribe to get land placed into federal trust — administratively and legislatively — and the tribe is utilizing both routes. In July 2013, the tribe filed a federal trust application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In October 2013, federal legislation was introduced to take Camp 4 into federal trust.

Chairman Armenta said his tribal nation is currently facing a housing shortage on its reservation.

“Only about 17 percent of our tribal members and lineal descendants live on our reservation and in some homes, multiple families live under one roof,” he said. “Building homes on Camp 4 for our tribal members and their families would create a meaningful opportunity for tribal members and their families to be a part of a tribal community revitalization effort that rebuilds tribal culture, customs and traditions.”

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is located in Santa Barbara County. The tribe owns and operates the popular Chumash Casino Resort on its reservation and also owns two hotels and a restaurant in the nearby town of Solvang — Hotel Corque, Hadsten House and Root 246 — as well as two gas stations in Santa Ynez.

— Mike Traphagen is a public relations specialist for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.