February 16, 2021

Rep. Ruiz Introduces Bill to Confirm Tribal Trust Land for Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

Staff & Wire Reports

Representative Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) has announced the introduction of 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.

“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.”

“H.R. 897 represents the final step in the completion of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Act of 2000 land exchange between Agua Caliente and the Bureau of Land Management and is monumental for the Tribe and the Coachella Valley,” said Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe, of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. “The exchange, which fulfilled a 1999 agreement, improves land management by both the Tribe and BLM by providing more logical and consistent boundaries. The benefits to ongoing management of trails, invasive species and endangered Big Horn Sheep habitat have been incredible. In addition, this historic exchange means the Tribe now manages land that has long-standing cultural and natural resource value to our people. So, it is imperative this land be expeditiously brought into tribal trust status to carry out the intent of both the Tribe and BLM and ensure the Tribe once again is the primary steward of land for the benefit of all future generations.”

All the land traditionally held by the Cahuilla people has been divided into even and odd parcels – known as a “checkerboard” – between the Tribe, government, and private landowners. Over the past few decades, the Tribe 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.

H.R. 897 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 from the BLM through the land exchange is in a remote wilderness area within the Monument and will be managed as conservation land similar to how the land 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.

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