Local group wins a round with BIA

 

A decision by the Interior Department to ignore local concerns when deciding whether to enlarge the Chumash reservation by removing 6.9-acres of Santa Ynez property from county tax rolls has been overturned by a federal court.

Two local groups who had been denied standing to challenge the Bureau of Indian Affairs decision in the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, brought suit against Interior in U.S. District Court.

The judge in the case castigated the Bureau for ignoring its own regulations and applying arbitrary standards in so-called fee-to-trust cases. 

 

The decision, announced July 14, hands a setback to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and earned praise from the two local organizations that filed the suit.

U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz, in his final decision in Preservation of Los Olivos, et al, vs. United States Department of Interior, et al, states that the Board erred in dismissing the plaintiffs’ administrative appeal of the Bureau’s approval of a 6.9-acre fee-to-trust application.

The dismissal was for lack of standing.

Judge Matz determined that the board ignored its own binding regulations on standing in the case, and also has never properly considered its regulations on standing in other similar cases before it.

The decision was praised by the plaintiffs, Preservation of Los Olivos and Preservation of Santa Ynez.

 

Fee-to-trust is a procedure by which an Indian tribe can request the Secretary of the Interior to hold land for the tribe or for an individual Indian.

This means that the lands are held in trust for Indians for economic development, allowing the Indians to benefit from housing and other federal programs that can only be used on land placed in trust.

Kathryn Bowen, a spokeswoman for P.O.L.O., issued a statement praising the decision.

“Judge Matz has not only ensured citizens’ rights to challenge a non-transparent and biased process; the Court has clearly stated the IBIA cannot rely on ad hoc rules and will now be subject to judicial review,” Bowen said.

“This is a great decision and one that is long overdue,” she said.

 

P.O.L.O. and POSY financed the lawsuit against the government, according to Steve Pappas, formerly a P.O.L.O. and POSY administrator and today one of two run-off candidates for Santa Barbara County’s 3rd District Supervisor seat.

News of the Matz decision came too late in the day to reach the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.

A telephone call placed to Frances Snyder, the tribal spokeswoman for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, had not been returned as of press time.