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Proposed Land Leasing Regulations Leave Landowners at a Standstill

By Tasha Silverhorn
Au-Authm Action News

It’s not too late to contact BIA or sign a petition against potential changes - deadline January 30

This year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is proposing new regulations requiring potential homeowners to obtain signatures of 100 percent of the landowners for each parcel of land in order to get approval for a homesite.

Because of the challenges landowners are facing in trying to obtain 100 percent of the signatures tribes, including the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, have been battling the BIA to try to change the regulations back to the previous 51 percent signature requirement.

On November 29, the BIA addressed a new proposed rule, 25 CFR 162—Residential, Business, Wind, and Solar Resource Leasing. In the proposal, the BIA wants to make changes in its approval process. One of the major issues is to have the potential landowner pay rental compensation to all of the allottees of the parcel of land where they wish to have a homesite. The BIA will not approve homesite leases on allotted land unless 100 percent of landowners consent to the lease (and waive rental compensation) or homesite lessees pay rental compensation to any landowner who does not specifically waive compensation.

“This proposal will put a burden on all the potential landowners, and then [on] those who want to do homesite leases,” said Landowners Association Chair Maria Chavez. “It’s almost impossible to get 100 percent [of the] signatures.

Along with that, if [there are some landowners] who don’t want to sign, [and] you as the homesite applicant decide to go head and build [a house on the land] anyway, [you] will have to start paying [those] landowners [of] that plot of land, and that is another hardship on the family.”

Working with the BIA
In early October, the SRPMIC Tribal Council created a resolution to present to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). Council Representatives Deanna Scabby and Tom Largo, Theresa Rosier from the Office of General Counsel, and Special Assistant for Congressional and Legislative Affairs Gary Bohnee traveled to the 68th annual NCAI convention in Portland, Oregon to present the resolution opposing the BIA’s requirements and new proposal: 25 CFR 162—Residential, Business, Wind, and Solar Resource Leasing.

Council presented the resolution to the NCAI Western Caucus, which includes delegates from Arizona, Utah and Nevada. There the resolution was supported. The resolution then went before the Litigations Committee and was passed.

During the conference general assembly, the BIA was making a presentation, and it was the perfect time to bring up the Community’s proposed resolution.

Council Representative Largo jumped at the chance to take the resolution to Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes and Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk addressing the issue that the BIA’s land lease changes have made it difficult for tribal members to obtain homesites on Indian land.

“I went to the microphone, and as a self-governance tribe, I said, ‘I want to bring it to your attention that you have brought our homesite lease process to a complete halt.’ I told [Hayes] that we would love to sit down with him or his staff after they got through with their presentation, and they agreed with that,” said Largo. “They assigned Paul Tsosie, chief of staff to the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, to set up a meeting that afternoon, along with Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs Patrice Kunesh. The four of us [Salt River representatives] were able to sit down and explain to them what their new regulations were doing. Whether or not the proposed regulation goes through, we continue dialogue with them on the changes.”

Taking Action
It’s not too late to contact BIA or sign a petition against the BIA’s proposed changes. The BIA has a comment period on the proposed Residential, Business, Wind, and Solar Resource Leasing regulations, and the deadline for comments is January 30. The Landowners Association is currently working on a petition for Community members to sign and give to the BIA to show them the effects these regulations have had and will continue to have on current, potential and future landowners.

“We are currently working with different departments in the Community,” Chavez said. “Gary Bohnee helped with the language of the petition; Community Development Director Stacey Gubser has come to our meetings, listened and informed us about some things we didn’t know about; Joni Ramos from the Realty Department also has come to our meetings and talked to us,” said Chavez. “With her work with Realty, she knows how bad it is as far as how many families can’t get homes. That’s when we really started seeing the bigger scope of things and how much it’s really going to affect our Community.”

The Landowners Association has found that 95 to 98 percent of the people in the Community do not have deeds to their homes. Even though the structures were built many years back, it has become a hardship on the families because they can’t legally deed their house to another relative if they pass on.

“As well, [current owners] can’t make modifications on their homes,” said Chavez. “They can’t upgrade or remodel. You can see that a whole lot of problems come along with this. That is why we’re doing our best to try to do something to prevent this becoming a real regulation.”

All in all, the Community’s focus is go back to the old Indian Land Consolidation Act Requirements. “That [required] 51 percent [of the landowners’ signatures] and there were no provisions of having to pay anyone [rent],” explained Largo.

What You Can Do to Help

• Sign the petition initiated by the Landowners Association. For information, contact Maria Chavez at (480) 567-6691 or Collette Arthur at (602) 321-1356.

• Provide comments during the Bureau of Indian Affairs regulation consultation period and inform the BIA that this change in policy/regulations will add more roadblocks to Indian homeownership. Three consultation sessions are planned: Seattle, WA, on January 10; Palm Springs, CA, on January 12; and Rapid City, SD, on January 18.

• If you can’t attend a consultation session in person, talk to your family members and tell them to send in their written comments to BIA prior to the January 30 deadline by either of the following methods:
By e-mail to consultation@bia.gov. Include the number 1076-AE73 in the subject line of the message.

By U.S. Mail or hand delivery (with the number 1076-AE73 on the outer envelope) to the following address:
Del Laverdure, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary–Indian Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior, Mail Stop 4141
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC, 20240

Be sure to describe any difficulties for you and your family caused by the 100-percent landowner signature requirement.


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