By The Office of Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D., CA-36, introduced Agua Caliente Chairman Jeff Grubbe last week before the House Natural Resources Committee during a legislative hearing on two bills introduced by Ruiz.
H.R. 4059 would take more than 2,500 acres of land in the San Jacinto Mountains into trust for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. This legislation would allow the tribe to further conservation efforts and practice consistent forest management. H.R. 4495 would authorize the Indian Health Service (IHS) to acquire property and construct an access road to the Desert Sage Youth Wellness Center, located in Hemet, California.
“It was a pleasure to introduce Chairman Grubbe in the Natural Resources Committee hearing where we both advocated for my bill H.R. 4059, which will help the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians better conserve, care for and protect cultural significant land,” said Ruiz. “Additionally, the committee brought up H.R. 4495, my bill that will improve access to Desert Sage Youth Wellness Center — the only Native American youth recovery treatment facility in California — to help youth combat opioid and other substance abuse addictions.”
In his testimony, Grubbe said, “I would like to thank Congressman Raul Ruiz for sponsoring H.R. 4059. The bill should be non-controversial legislation that authorizes the U.S. to take land owned by the tribe into trust for the tribe and make those lands part of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. The tribe strongly supports H.R. 4059.”
H.R. 4495 has been endorsed by the California Rural Indian Health Board and the National Indian Health Board.
H.R. 4059 is a bill to take certain lands in California into trust for the benefit of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
The Palm Springs area east of Mount San Jacinto is home to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (ACBCI) and has been officially set aside by the United States government since 1876. All the land traditionally held by the Cahuilla people has been divided into even and odd parcels — known as a “checkerboard” — between the tribe, government and private landowners. Over the past few decades, ACBCI has been involved in a series of land transfers with the United States government to consolidate their land and reclaim historically and culturally valuable areas.
H.R. 4059 would fulfill a 1999 agreement between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the ACBCI to acquire and exchange lands within the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument and allow these lands to be managed in a cooperative and coordinated manner. A land exchange for these parcels between BLM and ACBCI was finalized in March 2019. The land that was acquired by ACBCI from the BLM through the land exchange is in a remote wilderness area within the Monument and will be managed as conservation land similar to how the land was managed by the BLM.
Taking this land into the trust will complete the BLM-ACBCI agreement and allow ACBCI and BLM to consolidate the “checkerboard” landownership in and around the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. The goal of consolidating land ownership is to provide more logical and consistent land management.
H.R. 4495 serves to authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services, acting through the Director of the IHS, to acquire private land to facilitate access to the Desert Sage Youth Wellness Center in Hemet, California and for other purposes.
The Desert Sage Youth Treatment Center provides culturally sensitive treatment for Native American and Alaska Native youths between ages 12 and 17 suffering from Substance Use Disorders (SUD). Previously, Native American and Alaska Native youth used out-of-state facilities which took away their support systems at this crucial time of recovery from SUD.
Desert Sage was constructed in 2016 and can serve up to 32 patients at a time. It is the only IHS youth regional treatment center in California. It is currently accessed by a dirt road that is prone to washing out and cracking.
When the facility was constructed, IHS was unable to reach agreements with landowners on adjacent properties in order to pave and maintain an access road. Ruiz’s legislation would give IHS the authority to purchase the land from willing sellers and construct a road to the facility.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Native American and Alaska Native populations had the second-highest overdose rates from all opioids in 2017 among racial/ethnic groups in the United States.