Padilla, Feinstein Bill Protecting Sacred Land for the Pala Band of Mission Indians Passes Senate, Heads to President Biden’s Desk

WASHINGTON, D.C. — This week, legislation authored by U.S. Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein (both D-Calif.) as well as Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.-48) passed unanimously out of the Senate. The Pala Band of Mission Indians Land Transfer Act of 2023 would place approximately 720 acres of ancestral lands in San Diego County that are adjacent to the Pala Band of Mission Indian’s existing reservation into trust for the Tribe. The legislation previously passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and now heads to President Biden to be signed into law.

“This week’s action in the Senate brings us closer to fulfilling the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities to allow Tribal governments to once again manage their sacred lands,” said Senator Padilla. “This bill will allow the Pala Tribe to steward their ancestral homelands, known to the Tribe as ‘Chokla,’ and preserve their traditions for future generations. I’m proud to see the bill move out of the Senate and encourage President Biden to swiftly sign it into law.”

“I’m pleased the Senate passed our bill to transfer more than 700 acres of sacred tribal land acquired by the Pala Band of Mission Indians into trust managed by the Interior Department for the benefit of the tribe. This land has significant cultural and historic ties and I’m glad we are moving to protect it,” said Senator Feinstein.

“The Pala Band of Mission Indians is an important and meaningful part of our Southern California community, and I know Pala will carry out its rightful stewardship in a way that will protect and preserve sacred lands,” said Representative Issa. “We worked diligently to bring together supporters from across the aisle and from both houses of Congress, and this show of support is a tribute to the integrity of the Pala project.”

The Pala Band of Mission Indians is grateful to Senator Padilla for introducing an historic piece of legislation that safeguards Gregory Canyon,” said Chairman Robert Smith of the Pala Band of Mission Indians. “With the passage of the legislation, our ancestral grounds, which is central to our spiritual and cultural traditions, will be forever protected as part of the Pala Reservation.” 

The Pala Band of Mission Indians is located in Northern San Diego County. The lands in this bill include a portion of Gregory Mountain, known to the Tribe as “Chokla,” and Medicine Rock, which are sacred sites adjacent to the Tribe’s reservation that were historically occupied by Native peoples and contain rock art paintings and ancient artifacts. After fighting to do so for over 20 years, the Tribe was finally able to purchase these 700 acres near Gregory Mountain in 2016 from a developer who intended to turn the Tribe’s culturally significant and sacred lands into a landfill. This bill would place those lands into trust for the Tribe to preserve their sacred sites.

The legislation is a continuation of Senators Padilla and Feinstein’s work to ensure tribes can once again manage their ancestral and sacred lands. The Pala Band of Mission Indians Land Transfer Act of 2023 follows a series of bills signed into law by President Biden earlier this year that restores Tribal stewardship of sacred lands and ensure that our federal land management laws respect Tribal sovereignty.

Full text of the bill can be found here.