In a recent editorial ("Wintun tribe should work with county," Feb. 5), The Bee's editorial board criticizes the federal policy of taking land into trust for American Indian governments and takes particular issue with the application of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a sovereign tribe in Yolo County. This position is simply misplaced and dismissive of history.
Yocha Dehe has applied to have 853 acres of our ancestral land in the Capay Valley placed into federal trust ownership for the tribe's benefit. It is land we bought on the open market.
Trust applications are governed by a federal law that reversed an unjust policy that took 100 million acres of Indian land for settlers, leaving Indians landless and impoverished. Trust acquisitions empower tribes to once again govern their own lands and people, and flourish as distinct cultures.
Yocha Dehe has outgrown our small trust parcels. We need more land to house our growing families and for governmental, cultural and agricultural purposes. We have followed all the rules in a rigorous, multiyear, federally controlled process that invites public involvement.
The editorial board suggests we don't need all 853 acres, given that we plan to develop only part. It suggests we have some ulterior development motive for the rest.
The Bee cannot know our tribe's needs.
We have more interest than perhaps anyone in protecting Capay Valley's agricultural beauty. These lands were home to our ancestors and will be home to future generations. They are sacred and culturally significant, containing our ancestors' burials. There may be no better assurance of preventing development by a cash-strapped county than tribal control.
Indeed, placing these lands into trust will eliminate a possible housing development the county previously approved for this rural area.
The editorial board also criticizes us for not reaching agreement with the county to maintain the land's "agricultural designation" under its laws. In fact, it was the supervisors who walked away after two years of discussions from what would have been a visionary agreement enabling both governments to develop a shared land-use plan with meaningful protections, not just for lands under tribal control, but other county lands, too.
We reject that the county would be a better steward of this land than our tribe. We are a responsible government. Our passion and commitment to our environment, community and agricultural operations run deep. Capay Valley has been our home for thousands of years, and we are determined to ensure its beauty for generations to come.