Tribes, landowners tussle over cultural designation in NM
Written byANA CAMPOY, Wall Street Journal/GW
American Indians and ranchers in the Southwest are battling over whether an area surrounding New Mexico's Mount Taylor is sacred or private property.
The New Mexico Supreme Court is deliberating on the case, which represents a growing number of disputes about how much sway tribes should have over land that they don't own but believe to be a part of their culture.
The state designated the area surrounding Mount Taylor, located about 80 miles west of Albuquerque, as a traditional cultural property in 2009. The mountain is considered sacred by tribes including the Navajo, Acoma Pueblo, Hopi, Zuni and Laguna.
"This goes deeper than religion," said Ann Berkley Rodgers, a lawyer for the Acoma Pueblo Tribe, which lives at the foot of Mount Taylor. "It's a whole question of identity."
But that triggered a lawsuit from landowners, who said the designation, which is for public lands, was too large for the state to inspect and maintain as a historic site. They are concerned the designation will force cultural reviews of development on nearby private land. And in this particular area, private groups are seeking permits to mine for uranium on federal land (Greenwire, Dec. 8, 2011).
A state district court ruled in favor of the landowners, but a state appeals court sent the case to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
On the federal level, both the National Park Service and the Forest Service are working on federal guidelines to address land considered sacred by tribes.