The Sandoval Signpost

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re: desecration of sacred sites

In the Sandoval Signpost, March 2007 article “Jackson, Wilson, Chavez consider traffic congestion on Highway 550 during rush hour,” it appears that Congresswoman Heather Wilson and the city councils of Bernalillo and Rio Rancho and County Commissioner Don Leonard are considering a commuter highway through the “sovereign lands” of Santa Ana Pueblo.

As Indian people, we have governed ourselves as “autonomous sovereign Indian nations” since time immemorial. This issue on US 550 raises questions about the direction of the city councils of Bernalillo and Rio Rancho!

Highway 550, though it may not be so blatant today, is a threat that exists nonetheless. The city planners continue to address their concerns of traffic congestion on US 550 and ignore objections from tribal members. Their vision of a commuter highway at the sacrifice of Indian land is for the sole benefit of the commuters.

How does a Pueblo survive an attempt at premeditated politics? Will Santa Ana become the next 550 expansion? What is our destiny?

We are reminded of another “similar taking” in 2005, the “Desecration of Sacred Sites” at the Petroglyph National Monument and the completion of the Paseo del Norte Expansion. These are the “insensitive acts of which there is no shame,” the city planners continue to ignore the Indigenous “point of view”!
Maybe the city planners haven’t noticed the location or the spiritual significance of this sacred site. The city planners continue a symbolic journey, a violent invasion of this sacred land!

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands in times of challenges and controversy.”

In human nature, conflicts will ultimately arise to challenge the people. It is obvious this highway does have a solution and that is ... by having a commuter highway through the town of Bernalillo.

As I stated before, the Santa Ana Tribal Council in 2003 voted against any further discussion of feasibility study with Sandoval County regarding this issue. The Tribal Council of the Pueblo of Santa Ana is the duly authorized decision-making body for the pueblo.

Our actions will test our sovereignty, internally and externally to govern our affairs. Sovereignty begins here, right here with our people!

The Federal Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 states, “No Indian Tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall make or enforce any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion or abridging the freedom of speech of the press.”

Today, I address this issue on US 550 and exercise my “First Amendment” right to free speech.


re: Flying Star revisited

With all due respect, my comments in the Signpost last month regarding the Flying Star Project were solely directed at the visual intrusion of architectural style and how it affects the tenuous “sense of place” represented by native “homegrown” styles along Camino del Pueblo in Bernalillo. Having some experience in project planning and preservation in small towns, I applaud the Bernalillo Council and the County Planner’s staff for their tireless efforts to secure a workable project for this pivotal district.

Unfortunately, despite the detailed explanations of the functional aspects of the design, I remain skeptical that the visual style—(not the use of native materials or “color schemes,” not the use of traditional site planning)—the very basic “visual sense” of the project as it parks itself on Camino del Pueblo will intrude and further scatter the “terroir” of Bernalillo. I use that term as it applies to the physical senses engaged by someone who experiences a particular place. It’s the distinctive surroundings, history, spirit, taste, and smell of a locale that makes it memorable. I believe that public commercial architecture—as distinctive from home architecture, itself a hotly-debated topic—owes a debt to the community in which it is built. The burden is upon the newer structures to prove through their design execution and use planning that they enhance rather than eclipse the local sense of place. A showcase urban design in a small town usually looks for all the world like the caricature of an American Tourist abroad: Boy, am I having fun!?

One of the mistakes I feel is made in architectural planning nationwide is the widespread belief that small town “style” or “identity” is equivalent to city identity without the capital. This belief further dilutes small town life by inserting less “capital-rich” architectural style that still take their design cue from urban architecture. One of the hallmarks of urban identity is the willingness to lose historic structures, neighborhoods, and architecture to support the newer ideals—a vague shrug of the shoulders to “progress.” The vitality felt in big cities is often the result of the popular abandonment of memory of what went before in the face of constant change. New York City may be the “capital of the world,” but it is also the capital of nostalgia in the USA, reflecting hundreds of years of lost memory.

The fact of change alone is not itself a judgment of “better” than what it replaces. In addition, the inevitability of loss and change in an urban environment, coupled with the abiding nostalgia for what is gone, may not be a foregone conclusion in a small town. Small towns have the opportunity to direct their own futures and preserve what is honest and valuable in their architecture, since they are not usually so driven by outside pressures to embrace quick change.

By some standards, Bernalillo might be considered a fragile, already-threatened Main Street community, struggling to thrive in a changing world. Its rightfully proud native architectural forms derived from the functions they were intended for and re-interpreted carefully in the newer designs of public construction cited in the response of Planner Moe do preserve and extend the “Bernalillo-ness” of Camino del Pueblo. On the other hand, from the drawings published in the Signpost, my perception of the design of the Camino-frontage of the Flying Star Project remains that of an architect and an urban “statement” design (in local colors, of course) that will still figuratively swing its “elbows” about, making room for its own sense of pride.

Community projects can often be so difficult to mount attaining consensus financing, that by the time they are approved, aesthetic considerations may become secondary in importance. I believe that good architectural aesthetics, like most of Bernalillo’s recently constructed public buildings, should serve the sense of place, not dilute it. Of course, Bernalillo is not Santa Fe. Santa Fe’s architectural standards have created enough internal enmity to go around—and then some! On the other hand, it remains one of the most desired tourist destinations in the world and one of the most highly desired residential locations, in many cases, because of the foresight of the city planners those decades ago.

In other words, no one wants to visit New Mexico so they can enjoy California urban architecture (in local colors) nestled in our beloved small towns. The local hand-shaped architectural aesthetics have served New Mexicans well for hundreds of years, and in my humble opinion, the new Project’s aesthetics will only serve the developers’and architects’ sense of personal accomplishment beyond their utility for the community.

Finally, as far as putting my money where my mouth is, I have over the years with each home repair and project. We live in one of the county’s last recently-built full adobe homes! It’s getting tough to find reasonable adoberos and masons, so training some new ones makes a lot of sense. The learning curve is a lot longer for those skills than it is for frame construction—it will cost more to train them. Fortunately, traditional skills are here to stay:

born from the land itself, they will always find a market. Stuccoed Oriented-Strand Wallboard may come and go, but stone and adobe will be here in one hundred or two hundred years!


re: Patrick adjusts

Dear Friends Back East:

Thanks for asking about Patrick—my fine Maine Coon Cat. I’m pleased to report he’s adjusting to New Mexico even better than me. And he’s a far cry from that filthy, bloody, starving, sad, half-frozen stray that appeared at our back door in Rhode Island a few winters ago.

His traditional, heavy-duty sexual interest in lady felines, (and lady opossums, squirrels, raccoons, and small female members of the terrier breed), has been severely compromised by surgery and lack of opportunity. Indeed, his closest contacts with other members of the animal kingdom have been limited to nose-to-nose meetings with a large bull snake (whose name is Lochinvar) and a multiplicity of small lizards. None of these contacts, to my knowledge, were carnal in nature—at least not overtly so. (His fenced-in outdoor life is also highly regulated due to the risks from coyotes, owls and hawks.)

Patrick’s two main hobbies are (1) shedding and (2) striving for total daily regularity in eating and bodily elimination practices. He is, I dare say, as accomplished in both skills as any other retiree in the Land of Enchantment, including me.

Nearly every morning, I awake to Patrick sitting on the end of the bed, his thick, stumpy “forearms” tucked under him, as he watches the sunrise over the Sandias. He appears to be in a meditative state, his mantra a strong Harley-Davidson-like purr, and his yellow eyes open to a new day dawning. Zen-like, he truly lives for the moment.

You may recall how certain musical pieces—particularly Pachobel’s Canon, solos by Karen Carpenter and any Celtic harp piece—would seem to settle him down. Well, that’s still true, but he has apparently taken a liking to Marty Robbins (particularly El Paso and Streets of Laredo), and Native American flute music as well. (I just may start adding a little cilantro to his Salmon Supreme.)

I usually leave a radio on to keep him company when I’m out for an extended period and once, inadvertently, gave him prolonged exposure to a morning here’s-how-you-must-think/here’s-who-you-must-hate “talk radio” buffoon. When I returned, Patrick peed on my shoes. I wasn’t angry and would have done the same thing, but I’m now more careful about his cultural exposure.

I regret to say that Patrick’s latest vet check-up showed him to have the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). While he may still live a normal lifespan, it makes us aware that his life’s energy, like our own, must someday manifest itself in a different fashion. In his case, I suspect it will have something to do with the sunrise.


Heard around the West


Sometimes you can be too vigilant. Someone who spotted a black bag on the side of a road in eastern California reported that it had a suspiciously “foul odor.” A sheriff’s deputy investigated, says the Grass Valley-Nevada City Union. Inside the bag, wrapped in a blue towel, was a dead fish.

A big bad wolf killed more than 120 sheep in eastern Montana last year, but don’t blame one of Yellowstone’s wild wolves, says the Billings Gazette. The culprit was a domestic animal, the product of “human-manipulated breeding” combining genes from wolves in the Great Lakes region, Alaska and the Lower 48 states. “You just don’t see that Heinz 57 hodgepodge in wild wolves,” said Carolyn Sime, head of Montana’s wolf program. No one has a clue about where the voracious sheep-eater came from, she added, since the domestic wolf business is a “closeted industry.” Meanwhile, in Juneau, Alaska, a lone black wolf dubbed “Romeo” by locals loves to romp with dogs on frozen Mendenhall Lake; he’s even allowed people to touch him. The Juneau Empire newspaper ran pictures of Romeo loping off with a pet pug in his mouth, as if the dog were a rabbit. The wolf finally dropped the pug — apparently unharmed — on its back. Because animals that lose their fear of humans often end up shot, state biologists may pepper the friendly wolf with beanbags or rubber bullets to teach it to back off.

As the Salt Lake Tribune put it, “Not everything done in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The Utah-based online genealogy service recently posted marriage and divorce records for Las Vegas from 1956 through 2005, so celebrity groupies can now look up the unions and disunions of everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Elvis Presley.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado ( Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.

New Mexico’s merchants of death

The Bush regime may have been a little confused when they told the citizens of the United States that they were looking for weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi desert. They must have confused the deserts of Iraq with the deserts of the state of New Mexico.

New Mexico has a long and storied military history. From the initial occupation of Kearney during the United States “Manifest Destiny” land grab, to the men who served in Bataan, we here in New Mexico have served in the United States military. We also have become practiced at turning blind eyes to our equally storied past of being merchants of weapons of mass destruction for the better part of a century.

The nuclear cycle begins and ends here—from the mining of uranium, to the research and development of nuclear weapons, to the final disposal of nuclear waste. The state hosts three air force bases (Kirtland, Holloman, and Cannon), a testing range (White Sands Missile Range), an army proving ground and maneuver range (Fort Bliss Military Reservation-McGregor Range), the technology labs of Los Alamos and Sandia, the first national nuclear disposal site (Waste Isolation Pilot Project), and the largest storage facility for nuclear weapons in the world (Kirtland Underground Munitions Storage Complex). Almost half of all U. S. spending on this nuclear cycle occurs in New Mexico.

It was in New Mexico, starting in 1943, that the scientists at “Site Y” (now known as Los Alamos National Laboratories) designed, built, and tested the first nuclear weapon. It was here in the Land of Enchantment that in the summer of 1945, the scientists and staff of “Site Y” assembled the bombs that would be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of the same year. An estimated forty-four thousand people died in Hiroshima and another four thousand in Nagasaki. Two generations later, the people and environment still feel the effects of the radiation, and the psychological and cultural effects are immeasurable.
Los Alamos National Laboratory was founded during World War II as a secret, centralized facility to coordinate scientific research of the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear weapons. The work of the laboratory culminated in the creation of three atomic devices, one of which was used in the first nuclear test near Alamogordo, code named “Trinity” on July 16, 1945. The other two were weapons, “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” which were used in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California was founded to act as Los Alamos’ “competitor” with the hope that two laboratories competing in the design of nuclear weapons would spur innovation. Los Alamos’ current work is mostly based around design and stockpile stewardship, which refers to reliability testing and maintenance of its nuclear weapons.

Two other research facilities are in Albuquerque. Sandia National Labs, located in Albuquerque, dedicates over fifty percent of its work toward “weaponization” of nuclear warheads. The NNSA Service Center has a contract-based mission, but according to the Los Alamos Study Group, it also dedicates over fifty percent of its $500 million budget to nuclear weaponry.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Southeastern New Mexico, just outside of Carlsbad, is the world’s first underground nuclear-waste storage facility. After more than twenty years of scientific study, public input, and regulatory struggles, WIPP began operations on March 26, 1999. Disposal operations are expected to continue until 2034, with active monitoring for a further hundred years. By 2006, the facility had already processed five thousand shipments of waste and was holding eighty-three thousand containers of waste. Since it is the first project of its kind, the environmental and possible health effects on local people are unknown. In the late fall of 2006, Governor Bill [Richardson] signed a major permit modification allowing the site to receive hotter waste that would account for approximately four percent of the total waste stored. Advocates of the new permit said that it will allow the plant to operate more efficiently. Critics have said the new permit provisions will weaken the rigorous testing needed to keep the underground storage facility safe. In addition to WIPP, nuclear waste is also stored in Los Alamos.

Not surprisingly, federal military programs have been an integral part of the state’s economy for over five decades. In fact, development in New Mexico is heavily influenced by outside forces that exercise great political control in the state. Since the 1840s, extraction-type industries—mining, cattle ranching, timber, nuclear weapons development, and now “high tech” electronics—have exploited our natural, labor and economic resources.

New Mexico’s population of 1.9 million residents have paid a high price for this history. New Mexico is a majority people of color state and is also home to the second highest poverty rate in the nation. More than twenty-five percent of the children in our state live in poverty. We spend 5.7 times more per prisoner than per student, and have the highest rate of uninsured children in the country. In fact, a little over twenty percent of our entire population lacks health insurance. Believe it or not, a little over fifteen percent of New Mexicans live with ongoing food insecurity. In other words, they go hungry.

These sobering statistics are difficult to comprehend, considering that for every $1 New Mexicans pay in federal income taxes, we get back $2.37. On paper it looks very good, and wins Senators Domenici and Bingaman continual praise. But in fact, the bulk of that money flows directly into military spending, with nuclear spending alone amounting to around six percent of New Mexico’s total economy. Very little of this spending trickles down to the broader economy. This is illustrated by the fact that the highest concentration of millionaires in the nation is in Los Alamos, a small town in the mountains. Contrast this with the many small communities in New Mexico, such as Sunland Park, that reside at the lowest per capita income mark in the nation.

There are a few questions we need to ask ourselves, and our politicians, when we consider how militarized our state is. First, and perhaps foremost, do we want to forever be the state in which this immoral and deadly production of nuclear weapons begins and ends? Is this our legacy to the world?

Second, and equally important, do we forever want to suffer the impoverishment and environmental hazards imposed on our people by a government that embraces a military economy? We say NO! Our leaders must diversify our economy, focusing on indigenous and environmentally sound business creation, so that we are not forever at the mercy of federal military spending.

Reprinted with permission from Voces Unidas, a publication of the SouthWest Organizing Project, February 2007.



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