Padilla, Feinstein Announce Bill to Confirm Tribal Trust Land for Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein (both D-Calif.) announced plans to introduce legislation to take more than 2,500 acres of land in the San Jacinto Mountains into trust for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. This legislation would allow the tribe to further their conservation efforts and practice consistent forest management. Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) leads the legislation in the House.

“For generations, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians have lived in what is now known as Coachella Valley and the San Jacinto mountains,” Senator Padilla said. “Enactment of this legislation would culminate a decades-long endeavor between the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the federal government to finally allow the Tribe to manage lands of cultural and historical importance to the Cahuilla people. I’m proud to partner with Congressman Ruiz, Senator Feinstein, and Chairman Grubbe on this legislation, and look forward to advocating for its swift enactment.” 

“Allowing 2,500 acres of land held by the Agua Caliente tribe to be taken into trust makes good sense and I’m happy to cosponsor Senator Padilla’s bill,” Senator Feinstein said. “The parcel of land in the San Jacinto Mountains was consolidated in a 1999 land exchange agreement with the Bureau of Land Management but was not placed in trust – this bill rectifies that oversight. The land will be managed by the tribe with a prohibition against gaming, and I encourage this bill’s swift passage.”

“I am committed to honoring the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribal governments,” said Dr. Ruiz. “My bill, the Agua Caliente Land Exchange Fee to Trust Confirmation Act, fulfills an agreement between the federal government and Agua Caliente. I’m glad to work alongside Chairman Grubbe to ensure that the Tribe can manage these lands in accordance with their traditions and with respect for the environment and wildlife.” 

“This represents the final step in bringing approximately 2,560 acres of land owned by the Tribe into trust for the Tribe and making those lands part of the Reservation,” said Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe, of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. “These lands, when brought into trust, will improve land management that directly benefits ongoing management of trails, invasive species and endangered Big Horn Sheep habitat. In addition, this trust taking means the Tribe will now manage conservation lands that have long-standing cultural and natural resource value to our people. It is imperative this land be expeditiously brought into tribal trust status to ensure the Tribe once again is the primary steward of land for the benefit of all future generations.”

The Palm Springs area east of Mt. San Jacinto is home to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (ACBCI) and has been officially set aside by the United States government since 1876. All the land traditionally held by the Cahuilla people has been divided into even and odd parcels – known as a “checkerboard” – between the tribe, federal government, and private landowners. Over the past few decades, ACBCI has been involved in a series of land transfers with the United States government to consolidate their land and reclaim historically and culturally valuable areas.

This legislation would fulfill a 1999 agreement between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians to acquire and exchange lands within the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument and allow these lands to be managed in a cooperative and coordinated manner. A land exchange for these parcels between BLM and ACBCI was finalized in March 2019. The land that was acquired by ACBCI through the land exchange is in a remote wilderness area within the Monument and will be managed as conservation land similar to how it was managed by the BLM.

Taking this land into trust will complete the BLM-ACBCI agreement and allow ACBCI and BLM to consolidate the “checkerboard” landownership in and around the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. The goal of consolidating the landownership is to provide more logical and consistent land management.

Text of the Agua Caliente Land Exchange Fee to Trust Confirmation Act is available here.


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