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letters, opinions, editorials
‘Decolonizing’ is Pueblos’ first step
—MANUEL R. CRISTOBAL, COUNCILMAN, SANTA ANA PUEBLO
On August 10, we honored the Okay Owingeh leader, Po’Pay
(Popé), who led the Pueblo Indian Revolt, which took place
on August 10, 1680. It was the only successful indigenous revolution
against the powerful sovereign of Spain. We also commemorate this
historic anniversary to all the warriors—the Keres, Walatowa,
Tiwa, Tewa, Zuni, Hopi, Apache, Comanche, and Diné (Navajo).
I would like to honor this day with a peaceful gesture, a symbol
In this spirit and contemporary time, we are all here to address
the issue of colonial trauma. The majority of the public have no
comprehension of the psychological “brainwashing” still
prevalent within the Pueblo communities.
It was Spanish thought and culture from the very beginning that
was designed to eradicate our beliefs and institutionalize the Pueblo
In 1620, by royal decree of the king of Spain, the Keres, Tiwa,
Tewa, Walatowa, and Zuni were formed into a civil government and
given Spanish canes (of authority). Mexican officials gave the Pueblos
canes after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, President
Lincoln presented canes in recognition of the Pueblos’ nonviolent
position toward the United States during the American Civil War.
Most recently, King Juan Carlos of Spain presented the Spanish
canes to the Nineteen Pueblo Council. Former New Mexican Governor
Bruce King affirmed the same recognition when he presented the nineteen
pueblos with canes. In 2007, Spain gave the Pueblo of Acoma a cane
so tribal officials would not contest the controversial three-story-tall
bronze statue, “The Equestrian,” in El Paso, Texas.
Another example of such interpretation of Spanish influence today
is the patron saint Santiago, who appears in a drama acted out during
some Pueblo feast days. Santiago appears in the ceremony wearing
Spanish-style clothing, carrying a sword and cross. (To us), Santiago
is also a “Spanish war cry,” which echoes an eternity
of human suffering. Is this the perception of celebration? Who are
we honoring this day?
Here in the pueblos, colonialism remains alive with civil obedience
to Spanish morals and “morality dramas” of the reconquest.
Miles away in El Paso, “The Equestrian” remains a controversial
(memorial) to the conquistador, Juan de Oñate.
We can define annihilation of the Pueblo people through colonization
and (forced) assimilation.
How detrimental to continue to empower the conceptions of the Spanish
institutions! We are at a time in the “conscious thought”
of the Pueblo people to begin to bring an end to the system of colonization,
move toward independence from the symbolic “Spanish canes”
and exercise our inherent right to decolonize from the Proclamation
of 1620. Most pueblos need to assert their right to self-determination,
and take a stand with a democratic constitution.
Nothing creates more talk and disagreements than our Pueblo Indian
women’s lack of human rights. True, some Pueblo women do serve
on tribal councils and have served as governors, (but) only when
their pueblos have a written constitution. Other Pueblo women have
no voice in tribal councils in a system that is molded after the
Spanish civil government. Women in Iraq have more political rights—the
right to vote. When these exclusions of rights do not exist, there
are many hidden exploitations that Pueblo women endure today.
The Pueblo people will look upon this “controversial”
issue of historical trauma, and will see the truth and acknowledge
the manifestations of the pervasive Spanish institutions, including
the legacies that still indoctrinate the Pueblo people today.
Keeping this issue of sovereignty alive is a very real concern
today. We must focus on abstaining from participating in Santa Fe’s
2009 and 2010 cuarto-centenario. Support of this event would give
the impression that Pueblo people endorse and validate events that
commemorate the “genocide” of indigenous people of the
Southwest. As Pueblo people, we must secure our rights to speak
the truth without fear of intimidation. It is time to speak the
truth and “decolonize” our minds.
The opinions expressed in this statement do not represent the Santa
Ana Tribal Council or the Nineteen Indian Pueblo Council. The Federal
Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 starts: “No Indian tribe in
exercising powers of self-government shall make or abridge the freedom
of speech or the press.”
Today, I exercise my First Amendment right to free speech.
re: response to a resident in August 2008 Signpost
When I read of your “research” into the reasons for
the lack of water in Las Huertas Creek this year, I had to wonder
where you did your research, since you are pretty uninformed. If
it was through the Forest Service, obviously, the Forest Service
is no better informed.
To set the record straight, there are three historic acequia systems
in the Placitas area—Las Placitas, which supplies both domestic
and irrigation water for the Village of Placitas; Las Huertas Community
Ditch in the canyon south of Placitas; and Rosa Castilla, north
of Placitas. None of these are or have ever been “long-defunct,”
and such claims are simply an attempt to steal water rights for
development interests. They are protected by New Mexico’s
laws covering senior water rights and are quasi-governmental agencies
recognized by the State of New Mexico. Interfering with their diversion
of water (including vandalism of diversions as happened this year
and in past years) is a criminal offense punishable by fines of
up to $5,000 and possible jail time. Other punishable offenses are
the taking of water from the acequia if you are not a member or
have been prohibited by the mayordomo (such as in times of need
to alternate irrigation patterns). Mayordomos are elected (not self-appointed
as you claim) and it is their job (among other things) to ration
water in times of shortages.
All these acequias are spring-fed, as is Las Huertas Creek. When
the springs do not produce in any year, spring run-off is not enough
to sustain a flow of water into the summer months. The springs can
be affected by a number of factors including drought, an increasing
number of domestic wells, etc. I can only speak for Las Huertas
Community Ditch and point to two situations, both of which have
been created by the Forest Service. One is the pumping of water
for manufacturing snow at the ski area. In any year that this happens,
the springs feeding Las Huertas Creek are impaired. The other is
the poor health of the forest in the canyon. Ten years ago, a UNM
study talked of the reduction in yield of surface water and how
it hampers the irrigation needs of the Las Huertas/La Jara acequia.
In the absence of natural forest thinning (low-intensity fires)
or planned forest thinning and clearing of the forest understory,
the volume of timber increased radically throughout the twentieth
century. These thicker forests consume more water. In hydrological
terms, evapotranspiration and plant interception of precipitation
reduce infiltration and recharge of hill slope aquifers, resulting
in less surface water in down slope streams. The report goes on
to say that acequia communities’ access to surface water has
been profoundly affected by forest overgrowth in the Sandia Wilderness
Area. It also estimates that a mere one percent increase in evaporation
transpiration within the Las Huertas watershed could account for
a reduction of more than ten acre feet of surface water in Las Huertas
Keep in mind that this was ten years ago and nothing has been done.
We met with the Forest Service in 2006 and again in 2007 and there
is no suggested action, except to say that there is no forest use
plan for this area and that we are a low priority. Conditions are
now so bad that impairment of water flow is a secondary concern
to the very real potential for a disastrous fire which would destroy
the entire watershed for years to come, to say nothing of the potential
for loss of life and property.
John Wesley Powell in 1878 proposed to Congress a settlement pattern
for the arid west based upon watersheds. He envisioned economies,
planning, and laws tailored to each local resource base—a
kind of watershed democracy in which communities would have a voice
in protecting upland forests to maximize limited resources. His
plan died in the Senate Committee on Irrigation. Washington was
unable to reconcile scientific reality with policies based on individualism,
entrepreneurial economics, and greed. Not much has changed!
Next time you call the Forest Service, ask them some informed questions
such as why they have allowed this situation to happen and whether
they are ready to sit down with us and develop a community-focused
watershed management plan that would help restore Las Huertas Creek
to something we could all enjoy.
—JOAN FENICLE, Placitas
re: a unified Placitas
Recently, we attended a Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission
hearing. We were there on other business. After our hearing, we
remained seated in the chambers to hear a planning and zoning planner’s
dialogue with one of the commissioners.
The commissioner had recently attended the meeting on the annexation
of “west” Placitas held at our Community Center. During
the exchange, the planner stated that the Town of Bernalillo was
beginning to feel the “squeeze” and was expected to
proceed with the finalization of a development committee’s
report recommending action to the zoning issues in the three-mile
corridor of Route 165 commonly known as “west” Placitas.
On a map displayed by another planning aide, we viewed the sections
of Placitas that will be the focus of the annexation and possible
commercial development. It was clear from the discussion that the
Town of Bernalillo is feeling the “squeeze” and would
like to broaden its tax revenue base. Sandoval County and the developers
would also be benefactors.
Although I did not attend the community meeting at Placitas’s
Senior Center, it seems reasonable to assume that the Town of Bernalillo,
Sandoval County, and the developers are ready to move forward with
the proposal. After the exchange with the planners, the Commission
passed a motion that will provide for a professional facilitator
to run the next meeting. That meeting will also include planners
from Sandoval County, the Town of Bernalillo, and developers.
To all residents of Placitas, I propose the following recommendations
that will keep this action moving in a positive direction:
1. Stand as a unified Placitas and refrain from speaking the words
“east“ and “west“ Placitas.
2. Propose to the Town, County, and developers that as one condition
of annexation, they finance and build a Placitas water system, making
the precious commodity available to all residents of Placitas, and
absorb all costs of any additional infrastructure, such as paved
roads and natural gas line service.
3. Propose that the three parties become major financial contributors
to the Placitas Artists Series, guaranteeing another twenty-plus
years of performances.
4. Propose that the three parties become major financial sponsors
to our two artist shows.
5. And so on…
—RON SULLIVAN, Placitas
Water can be a worrisome thing in the desert
—LYNN MONTGOMERY, Mayordomo, Acequia la Rosa de Castilla
Most of us in Placitas when in need of water, like most Americans,
simply turn on the tap and don’t think about it. The water
is there for us to use, or at least that is what is assumed by most,
and what County officials, the State Engineer, and local housing
professionals tell us. We are sitting on an aquifer thousands of
feet deep and present pumping will only drop levels a couple feet
over centuries, or so we’re told. Some of us experience a
steady drop in already low water quality, and some of us even experience
wells going dry. Drilling deeper will develop more water, so why
The truth is not as simple. Every gallon pumped results in one
gallon less flow in local streams, springs, and rivers. That is
a hydrological fact in our region. All those billions of gallons
being pumped by the metro area down in the Valley will creep up
the hills way underground and also contribute, eventually, to the
degradation of our local surface flows. Conversely, our pumping
in Placitas will affect the flows of the Rio Grande in a similar
So, a new Placitas resident would ask; “What’s the
difference if these flows dry up? I don’t see any flowing
water near me.” One of the differences is our environment
will dry up along with these surface flows. All the wild birds,
plants, and animals we enjoy so much won’t have the water
and habitat to support them and Placitas will become a very stark
place. Another difference is the loss of our old culture, which
is land- and water-based, and cannot survive without either. There
are three incorporated acequias, or ditch systems, in Placitas that
go way back and support the remnants of a very old and venerable
agriculture which, until very recently, kept folks up here from
starvation most of the time and might, in the future, keep us from
starvation most of the time.
These acequias are political subdivisions of the state government,
their officers are elected officials of the state government, and
they have similar sovereignty as do local governments like the County.
Our acequias are quite old and have established rights that precede
the state and in most cases, the United States. The authority of
the state and the State Engineer over these rights is presently
being challenged, and it looks like they will probably not be as
subject to state statutes, county ordinances, or State Engineer
regulations as we have been led to believe, and the State Engineer
will have little authority over them, save a duty to protect them
from junior uses.
Junior? Water rights issues are very complex and contorted, and
much remains to be resolved, but things are starting to become clearer
as stream system adjudications of water rights and other water cases
start to establish more precedent in the courts. There is a hard
line between two basic types of water rights. This came about in
1907 when the Territory of New Mexico, anticipating statehood (1912),
declared all rights previous to 1907 to be “senior”
and subsequent rights to be “junior.” As established
long before, a priority administration system was created whereby
the older rights receive all their water before any goes to junior
users, especially in times of shortage. Groundwater, such as wells
in Placitas, was included in 1931 and is also subject to priority,
adjudications, and rights transfer regulations. It’s all the
Good conservative estimates speculate that there is at least two
times as much water right legitimately claimed as there is actual
wet water. The Middle Rio Grande Basin, which is a legal entity,
has never been adjudicated, although the water code has required
the State Engineer to begin one since 1907. It is impossible to
administer and manage the water resource properly and keep it from
being sorely abused unless there is adjudication and our water rights
are determined and verified by the court. The State Engineer cannot
determine water rights in any way, only the courts can do this.
Thus, many of the transfers of surface agricultural waters from
Valencia County into the ground up here in Placitas to serve residential
housing could very well be invalid. After the Pueblos have taken
their share, which is senior to all others and is an unknown but
surely considerable amount, there won’t be much left over
for junior rights. The State Engineer and local governments, along
with the legislature, have let this situation rot for decades so
that development could proceed without hindrance, as money and growing
the economy has been their greatest concern. Despite their neglect,
Middle Rio Grande adjudication is going to happen soon, as legislators
realize values beyond money concerning the water. Pressure from
the Lower Rio Grande Adjudication case, which is really going to
demand priority administration happen, is also making things move
along for once.
What are the final consequences for Placitas denizens? Well, the
water we really have is the water flowing in our streams and from
our springs, period. Groundwater pumping will dry up, or at least
make unusable to acequias, these flows. Our pumping is destroying
our water. No amount of money can fix this. When it all comes out
in the wash, junior users, from cities to domestic wells, are going
to have to find some senior rights to legally pump. These rights
must be local in order to protect the resource and senior rights
from infringement from other areas and regions. So, the acequias
possess the only rights that will be available to us to keep water
flowing from the tap.
Presently, the State Engineer says acequias don’t own much
right, as much of it hasn’t been used and is forfeited. But,
only the courts can actually forfeit rights and senior rights are,
in reality, exempt from beneficial use statutes and cannot be reduced
for non-use, despite what the State Engineer claims. No senior right
has been forfeited since 1966, when the Legislature tightened up
requirements of the forfeiture statute. Only if a right has been
abandoned for a long time, several decades, can it be retired by
In order for most of us to survive, (some will have to leave or
haul water as there won’t be enough “extra” senior
rights for everyone), a leasing system that allows acequia parciantes
to lease water rights from acequia water rights banks to needy well
owners has to be established. The leasing part needs some legislation.
The acequia banks already have legality. The acequias would need
much assistance to make sure that every square inch of legitimate
agricultural land is preserved and that all the rights associated
with those lands are preserved in full too.
We all lose if this little pool of rights is diminished. Those
that build on old agricultural lands are not making things easy
for our grandchildren. Up to now, acequias have been ignored and
dismissed as irrelevant in today’s grow and consume society.
This has been a big mistake, and it’s a good thing most acequia
parciantes are good, responsible, generous folks, despite the immense
injustice heaped on them over the years. Placitas has a likelihood
of becoming a ghost town or some kind of weird slum. Rio Rancho
will surely end up this way. We are small enough, and have better
opportunity for true community, so there’s some hope. We also
have survivors from the old days who have managed to stomach the
massive alteration of the area without fleeing. These long-time
residents had a viable and strong community which we could tap into
to give guidance.
Those that just got here should attempt to better learn the place
they have occupied. It’s one of the most interesting places
in the world if given a chance. We have to move on from the bedroom
non-community mindset and begin to get involved more. It’s
time to invest more in our place, ourselves, and our future community.