Last week’s article “Desmond calls delay ‘slap in the face’ of tribal nations,” The Roadrunner interviewed Rincon Tribal Chairman Bo Mazzetti about 5th District Supervisor Jim Desmond’s efforts to repeal a 30-year policy in which San Diego County automatically opposes any efforts by tribal nations to put land into trust.
This week we interviewed Pauma Reservation Chairman Temet Aguilar, who was one of the speakers last week when the Board of Supervisors postponed action on Desmond’s proposal until May 15, which prompted Desmond to add, “This is embarrassing.”
San Diego County has 18 tribes, and since 1994 whenever one of them applies to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to put land into trust, i.e. to make it into reservation land, the County’s policy has automatically been to oppose the request.
That doesn’t mean the land is not put into trust—that is rarely the case. It is just one of many considerations the BIA considers when making that determination.
Aguilar said, “I was initially excited. I was very excited about Jim taking this issue up. Its past due. It’s not a justified position that they had before. I’m glad that supervisor Desmond spoke up.” The delay angered him: “I don’t know why they postponed it. They still have the right to oppose anything case by case. Tribes are not looking for a blanket support. We work with a lot of county agencies and departments. We are able to do these things moving full forward. For me, non-Indians talk out of both sides of their mouth.” On the one hand they seek tribes’ cooperation with the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Department, “and on the other side the County is saying ‘We oppose anything you try to do.’ ”
For many, the process of putting land into trust, i.e. to convert it from taxable land into federal trust land, is tied up completely with casinos. But that’s usually not the case with most tribal FTT (fee-to-trust) applications.
Pauma does have a casino, but that’s not what they usually want to put land into trust for, said Aguilar.
“For Pauma, when we acquire property we are doing it to build homes. Our reservation is very small and so we acquire land so we can raise our children. This is a county policy that says, ‘We oppose that,’ ” he said.
At the hearing on Desmond’s motion, Aguilar gave part of his testimony in the Luiseno language to make a point.
Aguilar told The Roadrunner: “Natives are some of the best taxpayers in the country. What better taxpayer could you have than one that sits in a small postage stamp and spends it on the local economy? We don’t get any of the tax benefits. We have been collecting those taxes on the reservation for non-Indians. This is 2021. This isn’t the 90s and it isn’t the 50s. We should be transparent in those discussions. It’s a unique position for our tribes to be in. We understand our relationship, to the federal government. We are dealing with a subsidiary of a state, a county. All politics are local. We are collaborative. We don’t have any problems with helping with off reservation impacts, even contributing to road improvements. The tribes have always been partners that want to cooperate as we move forward.”
He added, “Every time any tribe submits an application for trust, the County automatically opposes. The last time Pauma put in an application, it was a blanket statement opposing it. Whether it’s to build a non-profit, they still oppose. They are doing the right thing in trying to adjust it now.”