The drama has ended surrounding Camp 4, which was once again joined to the existing Chumash reservation in the Santa Ynez Valley on Monday. The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ decision to grant the land transfer was affirmed by the current assistant secretary, Tara Mac Lean Sweeney, who signed it on February 25. She also dismissed all appeals. Nancy Crawford-Hall, whose family owned Camp 4 before selling it to Fess Parker, had successfully charged that the deputy who signed off on the decision was not empowered to do so at the time, bringing the decision back before the BIA.
Crawford-Hall’s Motion for Summary Judgment, brought by attorney Barry Cappello, was the only proceeding of the original eight appellants to get to a court hearing; five appellants were dismissed for a lack of standing to bring suit, and the county withdrew its appeal when it reached an agreement with the tribe. U.S. Central District Judge Stephen Wilson upheld Cappello’s challenge on the deputy’s signature on February 13, but Sweeney simply did what her predecessor had done, reviewed the case and agreed with the original decision. The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and the County of Santa Barbara’s agreement regarding revenue and setbacks is also back in force.
Chumash tribal chairman Kenneth Kahn termed the Central District Court’s decision a “technicality.” He said in a written statement that “There was never any concern about the merits of the application itself. Assistant Secretary Sweeney’s swift action and subsequent signature confirms that.” The tribe also asserted the environmental assessment had been thorough and that the findings of “no significant impact” had followed strict federal National Environmental Policy Act guidelines.
Sweeney’s 13-page decision iterated the circumstances of deputy Lawrence Roberts’s signing of his 42-page decision at the end of the Obama administration on January 19, 2017. She also addressed the appellants’ claims, as had Roberts even though their appeals were all dismissed, which ranged from environmental review issues to the constitutional authority of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to grant the land transfer (known as fee-to-trust).
The decision summarizes the tangled personnel history of the case: The regional director of the BIA’s Pacific Region, Amy Dutschke, had approved the fee-to-trust transfer on Christmas Eve 2014 in a Notice of Decision. Kevin Washburn, who held Sweeney’s position in 2015, assumed jurisdiction over the appeals that ensued. He resigned on New Year’s Eve 2015 and was not replaced; his deputy, Lawrence Roberts, took his place, which gave Roberts signing authority for only 210 days. When Roberts signed his affirmation of the Notice of Decision, he was nominally a deputy, not an assistant secretary, a fact winnowed out by Cappello & Noël attorney Wendy Welkom.
Sweeney’s signature affirming the Notice of Decision puts paid to the tribe’s nine-year effort. “We have one of the smallest reservations in the state, at only 144 acres,” Kenny Kahn said. “Our small land base allows for only 17 percent of our families to live on the current reservation. Housing on Camp 4 will allow our membership to come home to our ancestral land, live together and continue to thrive culturally.”
This story was corrected on March 1 to remove “Hall” from Tara Sweeney’s name.