Indian Time: Bill Sponsored by California Senators Would Restore Native Land

By Staff

Democratic U.S. Senators from California, Alex Padilla and Laphonza Butler, have sponsored a ground-breaking bill that will help the Jamul Indian Village and is a historic step toward restoring ancestral lands to indigenous populations. The bill proposes to place approximately 172 acres of land into trust, marking a significant step towards rebuilding the homeland of the Jamul Tribe, whose land base has dramatically diminished over the years.

The Jamul Indian Village, situated in San Diego County, has seen its ancestral territories shrink from over 640 acres to a mere six acres, rendering it one of the smallest reservations in the United States. This dramatic reduction in land has spurred the Tribe into action.

In a selfless act in 2005, Jamul tribal members voluntarily relocated off their reservation, setting the stage for economic development initiatives designed to foster self-sufficiency and reduce dependence on federal support. The Tribe’s proactive acquisition of four parcels of land, totaling 172 acres, is a testament to their determination to rebuild and sustain their community.

The legislation, dubbed the Jamul Indian Village Land Transfer Act, is poised to facilitate the transfer of these lands into trust. This legal mechanism will not only allow tribal members to return and reside on their ancestral lands but also enable the development of essential community resources.

Planned developments on the largest parcel include housing, administrative offices, a health clinic, a childcare center, educational facilities, a community center, law enforcement offices, and more, all tailored to meet the needs of the tribal members. The remaining parcels are critical for maintaining physical access to the Tribe’s reservation, as well as preserving the Tribe’s historical church and cemetery.

Complementing the Senate’s efforts, Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is championing similar legislation in the House of Representatives, underscoring the bipartisan support for this crucial cause. Congressman Darrell Issa (CA-48) is the author of the Jamul Indian Village Land Transfer Act (H.R.6443), which was overwhelmingly approved by the House Natural Resources Committee.

Furthermore, the bill has garnered endorsements from key local figures, including San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, highlighting the broad consensus on the importance of restoring tribal lands.

Senator Padilla has been at the forefront of advocating for the restoration of tribal ownership over ancestral lands. His commitment is evidenced by a series of successful legislative efforts under President Biden’s administration, aimed at returning sacred lands to indigenous stewardship and ensuring federal land management laws respect tribal sovereignty.

Senator Padilla stands at the forefront of championing the return of ancestral lands to Native American tribes, a cause furthered by President Biden’s enactment of several of Padilla’s legislative proposals last year. These initiatives aimed at reaffirming tribal governance over sacred lands and aligning federal land management policies with the principles of tribal sovereignty.

As part of this legislative package, significant land transfers were authorized, including the conveyance of over 2,500 acres in the San Jacinto Mountains to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and approximately 1,000 acres of federal territory in Humboldt and Siskiyou counties to the Karuk Tribe.

Additionally, the legislation made provisions for the Bureau of Land Management to offer tribes the opportunity to purchase or lease public lands at rates below the market value for uses that include recreation and public services. A notable achievement under this program was the recent transfer of 88 acres to the Susanville Indian Rancheria.

In a continued effort to enhance tribal rights to federal lands, Senator Padilla, alongside Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.), introduced bipartisan legislation earlier this year aimed at improving the process for tribes to acquire surplus federal properties for public purposes, reinforcing their commitment to recognizing and respecting tribal sovereignty.

“After years of sacrifice in their efforts to achieve self-determination, the Jamul Indian Village deserves a true homeland to preserve their sacred history and bring together generations to come,” said Senator Padilla. “I am honored to work alongside the Jamul Indian Village to enhance the Tribe’s community development and permanently safeguard their home for the benefit of their members.”

“This legislation is important and necessary to honor the Jamul Tribe’s sovereignty over their native homeland,” said Senator Butler. “Generations of tribal members stand to benefit from the economic development made possible by this bill, and I’m proud to be part of the effort ensuring the Jamul Indian Village can permanently reclaim and restore their ancestral territory.”

This latest initiative by Senators Padilla and Butler, alongside Representative Issa, represents a continuation of this commitment to tribal communities. By seeking to restore the Jamul Indian Village’s ancestral lands, the legislation not only aims to provide a foundation for the Tribe’s future growth and self-reliance but also serves as a beacon of hope for other tribes facing similar challenges.

“This critical legislation will help bring our people back to the community that has been our home from the beginning of time. It will also achieve the restoration and protection of our culturally significant ancestral lands,” said Erica M. Pinto, Chairwoman of the Jamul Indian Village. “By bringing the land we own into trust, Congress will help our Tribe honor our ancestors and their sacrifices. On behalf of the Jamul Indian Village, we’d like to thank Senator Padilla for the introduction of this legislation.”

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