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Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe land adjacent to reservation will go into trust status

(News release submitted by Quinn/Brein public relations firm)

KINGSTON — The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe has announced that they have received final approval to transition purchased land adjacent to the reservation into trust status. This designation — achieved in part through the first-time use of a 1907 state statute — will allow the tribe to independently regulate the land and expand its reservation boundaries.

The parcel, which was purchased from the Department of Natural Resources in 2005, totals 390 acres and is located south of the reservation running north and south along the Hansville highway and east on Little Boston Road. Currently, the land is under a 10-year forest management plan initiated by the tribe. After the full-term of this plan is complete, the tribe will determine the best use for the land, taking into account the needs of its community members.

“This is a very important step for our tribe,” tribal chairman Jeromy Sullivan said. “Trust status allows us to increase the size of our reservation by more than 25 percent while ensuring this land stays in the hands of the Port Gamble S’Klallam people forever. This is essential as we continue to plan for the needs of our growing population.”

Under trust status, the federal government holds the legal title, but the occupancy interest remains with a specific tribe in perpetuity. Most tribes pursue trust status on purchased lands so they can exercise full regulatory jurisdiction and expand reservation boundaries.

“Tribes have a unique challenge: planning for a community that will exist and likely grow for generations. While in areas around the reservation, populations shift and governments make decisions based on immediate needs, tribes have to always consider not just today, but also many tomorrows,” said Sullivan.

Obtaining trust status through the federal process can take up to 10 years. Under the federal Department of Justice Title Standards, which governs the process for taking land into trust, the federal government will generally only take land into trust when it isn’t encumbered with liens, encroachments, or exceptions. To help speed up the application process, the tribe garnered support from the state’s Department of Natural Resources to use a little-known 1907 state statute, RCW 79.11.220. The statute allowed the state to transfer the mineral rights to the United States, which the state maintained in the sale as it does as a matter of practice. If the state couldn’t transfer the mineral rights of the former DNR land to the United States, the tribe would not have been successful in obtaining trust status. Attorneys for tribe believe this is the first time this statute has been used by the state.

As a part of the review process, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe completed an Environmental Protection Agency Phase 1 environmental review as required by the federal government. Seattle-based Ridolfi, Inc., an independent contractor hired by the tribe, completed the review.

In addition, the tribe was responsible for working with landowners with adjacent properties to resolve any encroachment issues. While these were usually minor, it was important to the tribe to resolve these personally to help further establish good relationships with their neighbors.

Prior to receiving final approval, the Tribe notified the Kitsap community of its intentions to take the land into trust status through a public notice in the local papers. No comments were received.

Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the deed to certify the land into trust status on May 21. Later this summer, the tribe is planning an event to celebrate this important achievement. As a part of the festivities, tribal community members have been invited to suggest names for the parcel.

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, originally known as the Nux Sklai Yem or Strong People, are descendants of the Salish people who have been well-established in the Puget Sound basin and surrounding areas since 2400 B.C. In the late 1930s, the Port Gamble S’Klallam reservation, located on the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula, was established. Many of the tribe’s members, who total about 1,200, still live there today.

For more information about the S’Klallam Tribe, visit www.pgst.nsn.us.

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