NM pueblo seeks return of ancestral lands
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Leaders of an American Indian community in northern New Mexico are seeking the return of all land within the boundaries of the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve, citing the area as a "spiritual sanctuary" and part of their traditional homeland.
Jemez Pueblo filed a lawsuit in federal court last summer to establish its aboriginal right to ownership of the property, and the pueblo has gained the support of tribes throughout New Mexico.
The preserve is home to vast grasslands, the remnants of one of North America's few super volcanoes, and one of New Mexico's most famous elk herds. The federal government bought the property from land grant heirs in 2000 with the goal of operating it as a working ranch while developing recreational opportunities for the public.
The government's experiment in land management failed to become financially self-sufficient, and members of New Mexico's congressional delegation have been working on a proposal that would call for the National Park Service to take over management.
However, Jemez Pueblo wants the federal government to return ownership and control of the property.
The lawsuit describes the preserve as the "Jemez Holy Land" and talks about more than 800 years of occupation by the Jemez people. Archaeological surveys have identified dozens of pueblo villages, an extensive network of trails and thousands of ceremonial sites, agricultural fields and hunting traps, according to the lawsuit.
"All our songs, our traditional calendar refer to his area," Pueblo Gov. Vincent A. Toya Sr. told the Albuquerque Journal in a recent interview. "It is so dear to us because it has everything in our heart up there."