Sycuan land, Hallasii eha Topit and land returns to rightful stewards

Roy Cook, edit

Charlene Worrell said, “ Haawka, Good morning friends and family. I'm so very excited for the events today. I can't wait. So many people have worked so hard to make this happen and I'm so grateful. Eyay ahan.. see you there at hallasii eha topit! Mai'ha peshow! Blessings!”

The “fee to trust” dedication starts at 10 a.m. at 3611 Dehesa Road. It marks the change from the tribe possessing the land as most property owners do, to placing it into a trust, which in this case is the reservation. The tribe is also marking its sale in June of 600 acres for $3.1 million, just south of the reservation, to the Kumeyaay-Diegeño Land Conservancy, a conservation nonprofit.The Sycuan Band has nearly tripled the size of its reservation and will mark this expansion in a cultural ceremony today that will be open to the public. Using gaming profits, the tribe acquired 2,000 acres over several years and annexed 1,350 acres to the reservation, most of which will be preserved as open space. Another 600 acres will be kept as separate conservation space.


The deal, which took seven years to complete and cost the Sycuan tribe $25 million, will transfer 1,400 acres back to the reservation, according to Chairman of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay, Daniel Tucker. “It did cost us a lot of money, I’m not going to beat around the bush on that,” said Tucker, “but the point is it didn’t matter what it cost us, we wanted to get it back.”

“This is probably the most significant (event) in the history of the tribe. Far more than the casino or any other business that they operate,” said Sycuan spokesman Adam Day.

The land will be used in part for archaeological conservation, tribal housing, powwow grounds, road improvements and RV park. Over 85 percent will remain open space managed by the tribe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Day said. The tribe does not plan to expand casino operations on annexed territory, he said.

The annexation was approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs earlier this summer. The annexation proposal, launched in 2007, met resistance. One issue was how much the tribe should pay the county to offset lost revenue from converting the land to a reservation, which does not pay property or sales taxes. The tribe agreed to pay the county $321,000 per year for 7.5 years. It will also devote $800,000 to road improvements in the Dehesa area.

“The tribe is absolutely ecstatic. They’re very proud to reclaim a small part of their ancestral territory that contains significant cultural and archaeological resources,” Day said. A key acquisition is the archaeologically rich area around the Sweetwater River, home to ancient Kumeyaay villages. “There’s a significant amount of documentation, artifacts and remains that have been found in the past and have yet to be uncovered and should be untouched.”

Purchased land into Federal Trust reformed on November 4, 2009. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal today urged Congress to reform the federal land annexation process to make it fairer and more responsive to citizens, and leave in place a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring congressional approval for Indian tribes recognized after 1934 to add land to their reservations.

In testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Blumenthal blasted the BIA annexation process as fatally flawed and unfair to states and local communities that lose tax revenue and control over property added to a reservation. He said congressional approval for post-1934 tribes is a fairer, more open process enabling the interests of all to be heard and considered.

The court ruled in Carcieri vs. Salazar that the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) only allows tribes recognized by the federal government as of 1934 to annex land through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) administrative process. Tribes such as the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan recognized after 1934 may still add to their reservations by an act of Congress.

Blumenthal said lawmakers should overhaul the BIA annexation process to make it fairer and more open or abolish it and have Congress decide all Indian trust land applications. He urged better standards for deciding trust land applications and requiring BIA to immediately provide states and local communities with trust land applications and backup materials.

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