Newsom signs bill to restore ‘land grabbing’ for California Indian tribes

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Tribal officials inaugurate the new Eagle Mountain Casino in Porterville in April. Photo by Frank Lopez

published on July 13, 2021 – 2:24 PM
Written by Frank Lopez

Governor Gavin Newsom this weekend signed Assembly Bill 1180, which adds federally recognized California Indian tribes to the list of agencies offering a right of first refusal when purchasing land surplus from a local agency.

Introduced by Devon J. Mathis (R-Porterville) and sponsored by the Tule River Indian Tribe of Porterville, the bill has received support from federally recognized tribes including the Barona Mission Indian Band, the Jamul Indian Village of California, the Tejon Indian Tribe and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, as well as the City of Porterville.

“I am extremely grateful and honored to have led this effort to provide a just and meaningful opportunity that enables federally recognized tribes to purchase and reclaim lands of cultural and historical significance,” said Mathis. “By giving Californian tribes the opportunity to acquire surplus land, AB 1180 offers some reward for the great ‘land grab’ of the late 1800s, when the tribes ceded large tracts of land to the United States in peace exchange, in accordance with treaties negotiated but not honored.

Mathis hopes the new law will become a framework for other states to return land to federally recognized tribes, according to a statement from his office.

Existing law defines “exempt surplus land” as “surplus land that a total agency transfers to another local, state or federal agency for the use of the agency.” This bill would add land transferred by a local agency to a recognized California Indian tribe to the definition of exempt surplus land.

“Local agency” refers to every city organized under general law or by charter, county, town and county, district, housing authority or other political subdivision of the state who is empowered to acquire and hold real estate.

“The federally recognized California Indian tribes have been excluded from many state laws that create opportunities for the tribes to collaborate with neighboring local governments,” said William Garfield, president of the Tule River Indian Tribe. “Adding tribes to the California Surplus Land Act is an important step towards respecting the sovereignty of tribal governments, and it will facilitate joint planning between tribes and local governments, which will improve local communities for all. “

The law does not prevent a local agency from obtaining a fair market value from its sale of surplus land.

Late last year, the Tule River Indian Tribe received federal approval to move their Eagle Mountain Casino from their reservation in the foothills east of Porterville to a property in the Industrial Park of the Porterville airport.

Tribal officials inaugurated the site in April and plan to open in December 2022.

Mathis said it is not the intention of the bill to allow tribes to build casinos outside of tribal lands.

“However, we cannot talk about the specific purposes for which a tribe might purchase the land,” according to a statement. “One of our main hopes for the use of the land is to promote the growth and development of our federally recognized tribes and to reward historic injustices.”

Launch of the new Eagle Mountain Casino in Porterville

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