Historically, when an “Indian” tribe wanted to take land out of local jurisdiction and tax base and into “federal trust”, often to expand their “reservations”, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) routinely approved this regardless of community opposition. Anything to promote the welfare of “Indians” was considered in the public’s interest.
There are very significant impacts to land in federal “trust”. The most serious impact is the ability to do gambling on that land. Other impacts include: the land is out of local jurisdiction, they do not pay property or state tax, and they can build what they want. For example, other communities now have cigarette, box and chain stores in their rural towns when local regulations normally prohibit these types of stores.
Santa Ynez Valley citizens first learned they had no voice in 2000 when the Santa Ynez Band tribal leadership changed their plans from a 40,000 expansion to a 290,000 foot expansion of their Casino, built a 5 story parking structure, a wastewater treatment plant, hotel and spa. Citizens were flabbergasted. They organized to form citizen groups in an effort to stop this. They learned that because this was land in federal “trust” the BIA said that the Santa Ynez Band could do whatever they wanted. At that time they could have two thousand slot machines, and unlimited video slot machines that are virtually undistinguishable from the typical slot machines.
After the initial large casino expansion, the Santa Ynez Band filed an application with the BIA to expand their tribal territory by taking an additional 6.9 acres into federal trust. The Santa Ynez Band contributed $500,000 to out-of-area politicians who subsequently wrote letters of support for the 6.9 acres to be taken into federal trust status. In February of 2005, the Bureau of Indian Affairs ignored 995 opposition letters and agreed to take 6.9 acres into federal trust.
Our elected officials in Santa Barbara County gave up the public’s right to appeal this decision by the BIA because the Santa Ynez Band promised an agreement. As it turned out, the Santa Ynez Band would not sign on the dotted line and agree there would be no gambling off the current reservation in perpetuity.
The community had pleaded with the County to file an appeal in case the Santa Ynez Band did not live up to the promised agreement. Because the County would not file, multiple community groups decided to file an appeal, or lawsuit, against the federal governmentin order to protect the community. This lawsuit is against the federal government and not the Santa Ynez Band. The federal government makes the decision to take land into federal “trust.” They are the ones who ignored the letters of opposition. They are the ones who have made the policy that allows the community to be ignored and harmed in the process.
At this moment POLO and POSY are waiting for the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA) to determine if our members have “standing” to go forward with the lawsuit. There have been significant delays during this process. It turns out that the BIA did not submit the 995 opposition letters. The BIA did not think they were applicable to the case. This is a great example of the problem.
If the IBIA denies “standing”, then POLO and POSY take the case to the next level out of the BIA and into federal court. Getting to this point has taken a tremendous amount of time and money.