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Agua Caliente tribal trust land bill headed to Washington

Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein, both D-Calif., today announced plans to introduce legislation that would incorporate 2,500 acres of land in the San Jacinto Mountains into a trust for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

The planned legislation would fulfill a 1999 agreement between the Bureau of Land Management and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians to acquire and exchange lands within the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument to allow these lands to be managed cooperatively between the two groups, according to officials.

"This represents the final step in bringing approximately 2,560 acres of land owned by the tribe into trust for the tribe and making those lands part of the reservation," said Jeff L. Grubbe, chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. "These lands, when brought into trust, will improve land management that directly benefits ongoing management of trails, invasive species and endangered bighorn sheep habitat. In addition, this trust taking means the tribe will now manage conservation lands that have long-standing cultural and natural resource value to our people."

Land traditionally held by the tribe has been divided into even and odd parcels -- known as a checkerboard -- between the tribe, federal government and private landowners.

According to officials, the tribe has been involved in land transfers over the last few decades with the United States government to consolidate and reclaim historically and culturally valuable assets.

"For generations, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians have lived in what is now known as Coachella Valley and the San Jacinto mountains," Padilla said. "Enactment of this legislation would culminate a decades-long endeavor between the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the federal government to finally allow the tribe to manage lands of cultural and historical importance to the Cahuilla people."

The legislation in the House will be introduced by Rep. Raul Ruiz, D- Coachella.

"I am committed to honoring the federal government's trust responsibility to tribal governments," said Ruiz. "My bill, the Agua Caliente Land Exchange Fee to Trust Confirmation Act, fulfills an agreement between the federal government and Agua Caliente.''

City News Service

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