Open Letter to Secretary Zinke on Fee Trust Lands
December 1, 2017
Secretary Ryan Zinke
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240
Subject: Conversion of Land to Tribal Trust Status
As officers of the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights (CAPR), an organization with 31 chapters in Washington
State and California dedicated to protecting and promoting property rights for all Americans, we are writing you to
request that the Department of the Interior make the impact on local communities a primary consideration when
determining whether to approve tribal requests to convert land outside their reservations from fee to trust. This has
become a controversial issue in many jurisdictions in our two states and we suspect across the nation as a whole.
A tribe gaining ownership of land outside the boundaries of its reservation through purchase or other means is
followed invariably by requests to place the property in federal trust status. To date, this generates almost
automatic approval from the BIA. The result is the property and any enterprises and residences contained therein
are removed from the tax rolls of local jurisdictions. Towns, cities and counties, often strapped for revenue, are then
forced to increase taxes on remaining citizens or cut back and/or relinquish necessary services.
Secondly, but just as consequential, any non-tribal person or business owner living on the acquired property loses
representation guaranteed to him or her by the U.S. Constitution. At the local level, non-tribal citizens of the United
States can not cast a ballot in a tribal election on matters that will affect them. Even though they can vote in federal,
state and some local elections, they get no say in what the tribe decides about their future as long as they live or do
business at that location.
In recent years, we’ve noticed a determined effort by certain tribes and their leaders to increase their political power
and influence, corresponding to an increase in gaming income. Flush with gambling money, tribes use the funds to
make generous campaign donations, lobby legislators and government officials, and purchase property. Note that
tribes are the only jurisdictional authorities in the United States allowed to make direct contributions to candidates or
ballot measures. State and local governments are prevented by law from doing that. None of these activities appear
to be illegal, but one wonders if any of that money ever filters down to actually benefit tribal members living on the
In some locations, we suspect that a kind of “retribution across the generations” is being practiced as more radical
elements apparently seek to displace non-tribal citizens, prevent growth and hinder traditional productive activities
such as agriculture.
In Washington’s rural Skagit County, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community under the leadership of its
Chairman, Brian Cladoosby, who is also President of the National Congress of American Indians, was responsible
for the infamous “What’s Upstream” ad campaign that attacked the state’s farming operations, drawing the ire of
several U.S. Senators and Representatives, loss of water rights by home owners relying on wells, and an attempt to
expropriate commercial and residential property outside established tribal reservation boundaries. Chairman
Cladoosby was also part of the Standing Rock “No-DAPL” protest. Reportedly, Cladoosby has made statements
that his goal is to control and extend jurisdictional authority over all of the county.
This is an unhealthy situation that not only threatens to create further animosity between tribal and non-tribal
residents, but if preferential treatment of tribal gambling continues alongside blank check authorization of fee to
trust land conversions without proper scrutiny of the interests of all parties, rights guaranteed for all citizens by our
Constitution are lost and local non-tribal jurisdictions will continue to suffer significantly as tribal power and land
holdings continue to grow.
To protect our communities and restore balance, we ask you to consider the following actions:
1. Make tribes subject to the same requirements and restrictions on political donations to which the rest of
citizens and entities are subject.
2. Stop federal grant funding that is aiding tribes’ inordinate power over land and water use (such as the US
EPA funding of the “What’s Upstream” propaganda attack on agriculture)
3. Place a hold on fee-to-trust conversions pending legislation that balances the playing field, including with
respect to points 1 and 2 above.
Thank you for your consideration on this very important matter.
Citizens Alliance for Property Rights