Padilla, Feinstein Introduce Legislation to Protect Sacred Land for the Pala Band of Mission Indians

WASHINGTON, D.C. — This week, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein (both D-Calif.) introduced the Pala Band of Mission Indians Land Transfer Act of 2023, which 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 was previously introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Darrell Issa (R-Calif.-48) and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.-52).

“I’m proud to partner with the Pala Band of Mission Indians, Senator Feinstein, and Representatives Issa and Vargas to place sacred lands and cultural sites into trust for the benefit of the Pala Tribe,” said Senator Padilla. “Doing so would allow the Pala Tribe to better steward their ancestral homelands, known to the Tribe as ‘Chokla,’ and preserve their traditions for future generations. This legislation builds upon my commitment to ensuring that the federal government upholds its trust and treaty responsibilities and allows Tribal governments to once again manage their sacred lands.”

“The Pala Band of Mission Indians has roots in Northern San Diego dating back generations. I’m proud to support Senator Padilla’s legislation to transfer nearly 700 acres of sacred tribal land into a trust for the tribe,” Senator Feinstein said. “This land contains significant cultural and historic significance and I strongly support protecting it.”

“This bipartisan legislation will preserve sacred Pala Band tribal land and establish new protections for Native American cultural heritage. I am proud to join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of Congress in vesting the Pala tribe with stewardship over their historical land to manage it in its natural state for many years to come,” said Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.-48).

“The Pala Band of Mission Indians is grateful for the support of Senators Padilla and Feinstein on this very important piece of legislation,” said Chairman Robert Smith of the Pala Band of Mission Indians. “Gregory Canyon is sacred land of our Tribe and transferring this cultural property into trust ensures that it 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. Earlier this year, President Biden signed into law a series of bills to restore Tribal stewardship of sacred lands and ensure that our federal land management laws respect Tribal sovereignty. Collectively those bills placed approximately 3,500 acres of land previously owned by the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management into trust for the benefit of two Tribal governments in California.

Full text of the bill can be found here.


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