Sandia Mountain agreement reached in Senate
On October 4, Sandia Pueblo governor Stuwart Paisano and a delegation from the pueblo finished negotiations with New Mexico senators in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on a bill that should settle years of legal wrangling over ownership of the north face of Sandia Mountain. The bill, which is packaged with several other bills, must now win approval in the Senate and the House before being signed by the President.
The bill keeps ownership and administration of the claim area with the U.S. Forest Service, while giving Sandia Pueblo assurance that their sacred mountain remains undeveloped and guaranteeing that pueblo members can use any portion of the claim area for religious and traditional uses. It gives the pueblo veto power over new uses of the area while keeping recreational use the same. Property owners within the claim area are given clear title and utility easements.
Governor Paisano said, "We are not extremely happy with this settlement, but it's something we accept and can live with. It involved many compromises. We sought to attain sole trust status, but had to settle for beneficial interest status." Paisano said that he is satisfied that there are safeguards within the bill that will protect the mountain.
Sandia Pueblo first filed its claim of ownership of nearly ten thousand acres in 1983. They contend that over 150 years ago the initial federal survey erroneously sliced the sacred land from their eastern boundary. The land eventually became part of the Cibola National Forest. In the year 2000, the pueblo negotiated a settlement with the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies.
That agreement is basically the same as the Senate bill, but it was opposed by Representative Heather Wilson, Bernalillo County, Albuquerque mayor Jim Baca, and—most significantly—Senator Pete Domenici. Critics referred to the settlement as "irrelevant," “reached in bad faith," and a "back-room deal."
The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman. It contains language that satisfies Domenici’s concerns. His approval brings Heather Wilson on board, but this year’s ineffective Congressional session has now adjourned. The period allotted for ratification of the settlement with the Forest Service expires in November, 2002. The bill could be addressed in a lame duck session, but as long as it languishes in Congress, the status of the claim area remains in limbo.
In order to move the legislation forward, the pueblo was basically forced to purchase a 160-acre inholding in the wilderness area, right on the Piedra Lisa Trail. The previous owners of the property had been threatening a residential development and had already sued the Forest Service for the right to to convert the trail to an access road. As part of the Senate bill, the government will negotiate a repayment for this purchase.
Sandia Pueblo has spared no time or expense in its effort to protect the mountain from development. In recognition of their connection to the land, the Senate bill names the area the T'uf Shur Bien Preservation Trust Area. The Tiwa words mean "green-reed mountain." A lot of people who see the mountain as sacred or beautiful and who value it for open space and recreation have expressed their gratitude to Sandia Pueblo for its tireless effort.
Maoris from New Zealand perform welcome dance on Santa Ana Pueblo.
Sandia Pueblo dancers perform to welcome Maori Indians
Maori ambassadors visit brothers and sisters in Indian Country
Representatives of Americans for Indian Opportunity’s sister organization, the Advancement of Maori Opportunity (AMO), of Aotearoa, New Zealand, visited Indian Country and the offices of AIO on the Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico, from September 20 to 27.
The purpose of the exchange was to develop a transnational body to support indigenous leadership in the context of globalization. As a result of their meetings in New Mexico, Advancement of Maori Opportunity and Americans for Indian Opportunity have launched a new organization, Advancement of Indigenous Opportunity (AIL International). This collaboration continues the work of the Wisdom of the People Forum held in Washington, D.C., from September 16 to 18.
AIO International reflects a consensus by AMO and AIO, developed at the forum, to continue transnational indigenous interaction. It is the first international indigenous organization to focus on leadership development.
LaDonna Harris has been appointed founding president of AIO International. Three AIO representatives, Ivan Posey (Eastern Shoshone), Gilbert Thompson (Mississippi Band of Choctaws), and Kathryn Tijerina (Comanche), have been appointed founding board members of AIO International. Puka Moeau, Kate Cherrington, and Bentham Ohia will serve as founding AMO representatives on the AIO International board. The seven members of the AIO International board will further strengthen the AIO/AMO partnership through shared governance, with full membership on the board of their respective sister organization.
The exchange in New Mexico also served to familiarize AMO with AIO’s Ambassadors Program process and the Indigenous communities of New Mexico. The Maori traveled New Mexico meeting Indian leaders, learning about Native American history, and sharing their own culture with area Natives.
When the Maori arrived at the Albuquerque Sunport, they were greeted by a traditional Native drum group. The group then traveled to the All Indian Pueblo Cultural Center for an arrival ceremony and dancing by area pueblos.
The Maori ambassadors and AIO staff spent the weekend at Chaco Canyon learning about the solar and lunar alignment of the canyon’s ancient structures. They also spent time in Santa Fe at the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum of Contemporary Native American Art. The group toured the IAIA campus and had dinner with students and faculty.
On Monday, the Maori toured Sandia Pueblo and were welcomed by dancers of the Headstart class. The Maori sang and danced for their hosts, presented gifts, and ate lunch with the elders. In the evening the group traveled up the Sandia Peak Tramway and had dinner at the top.
The Maori Ambassadors also visited Santa Ana Pueblo, had lunch with the elders, and shared their culture with the pueblo. AMO and AIO representatives were guests on the Native America Calling radio program broadcast from KUNM. The Maori toured the All Indian Pueblo Cultural Center with Joe Sando before departing for New Zealand on Friday, September 27.
Throughout their visit, the Maori were joined by AIO Ambassador Program alumni, many of whom had visited the Maori in New Zealand last spring. The alumni organized and hosted all of the week’s events and renewed relationships with their Maori brothers and sisters.
Placitas free-range horse update
Most horses that roam the Placitas area survived a difficult summer. Some were hauled off to auction, some placed in the protective custody of a local corral, and some still wander the hills in or around the BLM land north of the village. Results of DNA testing to determine their origin is not yet available.
Tommy Gow of the BLM has offered to host another meeting like the one held last year to provide a forum for people’s concerns about the horses. Meanwhile, he says that he has been in touch with the San Felipe Pueblo administration to give tribal members an "opportunity to reclaim their private property." Gow went on to say, "If they want their horses back, then we will drive them out of the BLM land and back onto pueblo property. Otherwise we will impound and turn them over to the livestock board, according to state law. The horses are not wild. They are strays and are not authorized to trespass onto public land."
Gow said that he had been in touch with a representative of the Placitas Wild Horse Observers Association and with Barbara Goodwin, owner some of the horses that are awaiting a safe place for release. He suggested that they get in touch with the grazing leaseholders who are now using the BLM land near Placitas. He said that the BLM would be willing to approve horses grazing the land on a one-to-one basis with the cattle they could re-place on the allotments. "I appreciate the horses, too, and I don't want to see them rounded up," said Gow. The community meeting would probably come after the first of the year, if questions about the fate of the horses remain unanswered.
Free roaming horses in Placitas
Placitas Open Space faces uncertain future
In a letter dated September 18, the Albuquerque Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management notified the Albuquerque Open Space Division of the Parks and Recreation Department that most of the city's parks obtained through the Recreation and Public Purposes Act patents were out of compliance. The letter stated that a recent inspection of the parks found that the city had violated the patent provisions that allowed the city to purchase nine parcels of BLM land for recreational purposes for less money than they would have paid on the open market.
The 560-acre Placitas Open Space is one of the parks that was found to be out of compliance. The inspection found there were not enough fences, no signs indicating open space, and no trail development or construction. The BLM letter stated that the city could "relinquish their R&PP patents voluntarily or purchase the United States interest in the patents, at today’s fair market value, less the amount originally paid."
When the Las Placitas Association became aware of this development, its members were understandably distressed. Judith Hendry, president of the LPA, said, "Right now I would hate to make a guess as to what is going to happen with the open space. It's a very fluid situation and it is hard to predict what the BLM might be thinking or planning. However, I believe that there is a real possibility that we may actually lose this open space. If BLM revokes the city's patent on the land, it's open season on what might happen to it. LPA, along with many community volunteers and supporters, have worked long and diligently to get the management plan in place, to have the area designated as a State Historic District, to do the riparian restoration along the creek, and numerous other projects. The City of Albuquerque Open Space Division has supported us all the way. If BLM were to actually revoke the patent, I can't even imagine the community outrage."
In a tersely worked e-mail to BLM officials, LPA member Carol Parker accused the BLM of not living up to its responsibility to review the patent for the last thirty-five years. She said, "A reasonable agency might have begun the process by contacting groups in the community and beginning a dialogue with people who know what happened over that time. . . . It is most certainly not reasonable to have a BLM employee do a quick and dirty drive by review to create a grossly inaccurate public record showing an untrue lack of activity on the patent."
It is perhaps also noteworthy that BLM assistant supervisor Steve Anderson had written another letter to Albuquerque Open Space on May 28, 2002, notifying them that the BLM was in agreement with the gravel mining operation of LaFarge Corporation that a 1998 proposed agreement between the three parties had "outlived its usefulness and [we] will terminate the PA. . .effective June 30, 2002." The proposed agreement [PA] dealt with matters such as a buffer zone around the gravel mine, a phased mining plan, and a reclamation plan. It also provided for LaFarge to set aside up to $30,000 annually to benefit Placitas Open Space—funds that were never used.
Anderson told the Signpost that he had sent letters to the Open Space Division as well as all of the agencies involved with the nine R&PP patents prior to the BLM inspections, asking for a report on their activities. He said, "There was a 40 percent nonreturn rate on those requests. As a manager, that indicated to me that there could be a problem with compliance. The inspections and the letter to Open Space was not an effort to enforce the reversionary clause. The bottom line is we are just asking them to explain their position. Now the ball is in their court."
Similarly, Anderson said that his letter concerning the PA was an attempt to find out what was going on with the LaFarge funds and why there had been no meetings or memorandum of understanding between the parties involved. He offered no plan to replace the PA, but said that the BLM routinely inspects the gravel mining operation to make sure they are in compliance with stipulations on operation of the mine. "There is no proposal in this office at this time for expansion of the mine," he assured. "Nothing I have have seen would indicate that the BLM is in a disposal mode. The high level of interest in these public lands for recreational purposes would make it likely that these lands will be retained for the enjoyment and use of the public."
As a manager, Anderson could have found a less disruptive way to get to the bottom of these issues. He said that they are planning an October 28 meeting with the Open Space Division to take a look at some of the R&PP patent properties and to come to a resolution of problems. Maybe this is just the way that government bureaucracies do business with each other.
Meanwhile, the LPA is alarmed by what is communicated in these letters and encourages residents to attend their November 16 annual meeting at 6:45 p.m. at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church. Their ad in this month’s Signpost for the meeting reads, “ Community Alert—BLM threatens Placitas Open Space.”