"We always face the Mountain when we pray...It is just like an altar
to us...where we greet the sun coming out...We do believe that the spirit
is there that will grant us all our lives. After all, it's the spirit that
any nation, any people believe in, and it's the spirit that gives life."
J.R. Trujillo, 1985
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PUEBLO OF SANDIA - SANDIA MOUNTAIN CLAIM
The Settlement Agreement
The Pueblo worked tirelessly with members and staff of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation to craft legislation which incorporated the primary elements of the settlement:
- Guarantees of Continued Wilderness Designation and Public Access. The Settlement Agreement preserves the wilderness and national forest character of the lands, and continues Forest Service administration of the area claimed by the Pueblo. The existing Wilderness Act designation remains fully in place. The settlement also ensures unrestricted public use and enjoyment of the area.
- Extinguishment of Pueblo’s Claim; Clear Titles and Rights-of-Way. The Settlement extinguished any claim of title by the Pueblo to the area and to the private property interests within it, thus clearing all possible clouds on private titles. Under the Settlement, the Pueblo agreed to provide access for roads and utility corridors over its existing lands for the subdivisions, the public and the Forest Service. (Some existing roads, including the only road to two of the subdivisions and to the most popular picnic and hiking areas, did not have legally valid rights of way over the Pueblo's existing lands, and some utilities did not have legal rights of way over the Pueblo's existing lands to the subdivisions.)
- No New Development. The Settlement prohibits all commercial uses of the area, including gaming and mineral or timber production. The Pueblo's rights to access and use the area for traditional and cultural purposes are recognized in the Settlement, but these uses must be consistent with the Wilderness Act and be non-commercial in nature. The Forest Service agreed that no new uses may be made of the area without the Pueblo's consent - a key component of the agreement for the Pueblo, because it ensures perpetual preservation of the area's natural character and bans new development.
In March 2002, Senator Bingaman introduced legislation that - while it was generally patterned after the Settlement Agreement - deviated from it in some significant respects. Following subsequent efforts and through negotiation and significant compromise, the final form of the bill emerged, supported by all members of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation and acceptable to the primary affected parties.
On February 20, 2003, the Tu’f Shur Bien Preservation Trust Act [P.L. 108-007, Title IV] was signed into law. Then-Pueblo Governor Stuwart Paisano heralded the closure of this long chapter in Sandia’s history with the following public statement:
The signing into law yesterday of legislation settling our claim to the west face of Sandia Mountain is an historic event for the people of Sandia Pueblo. It marks an end to our long quest to rectify a surveying mistake made by the federal government almost 150 years ago that excluded almost 10,000 acres from our Reservation. However, the settlement agreement that we worked out with the federal government, and which Senator Bingaman, along with Senator Domenici, helped to finalize and push through Congress, ensures that the Mountain is protected for the benefit of all New Mexicans. Of particular importance to the public are provisions that provide for access across our Reservation to recreational areas, trails, and homes that previously lacked lawful access.
Obviously, the settlement represents some difficult compromises by the Pueblo, compromises made even more difficult by the long battle we had to wage to have our claim recognized. Ultimately, however, our leaders and people decided that it was more important to guarantee the protection and preservation of the Mountain than to continue the legal battle. For my people, the settlement assures that there will be no further development of an area that is extraordinarily sacred to us and assures that we will be able to use the Mountain for religious and traditional purposes, as we have for centuries.
The settlement also incorporates and builds on the Wilderness designation protections that Senator Domenici was instrumental in securing twenty-five years ago. While compromises generally do not produce winners and losers, the Pueblo of Sandia hopes that the one clear winner here is the Mountain itself. The Mountain is an urban wilderness and as such is both extremely fragile, yet constantly subject to continuing pressures from the rapidly growing population that surrounds it. Our elders, who know the Mountain better than anyone, tell us it is hurting springs have dried up, and plants and wildlife have disappeared or retreated. So, while we celebrate this settlement, let us all be mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of the Mountain and to be vigilant in our efforts to protest it. Our Pueblo will certainly be working with local Forest Service managers to ensure that the Mountain receives the best management and care possible.
In closing, I want to thank both of our Senators, as well as Congresswoman Wilson, and Congressmen Udall and Pearce, for including the Mountain settlement in the first bill passed by Congress this year. We are very happy that this controversy is now behind us and look forward to working with the delegation, the State, and with our neighboring governments and communities, on other issues of common interest or concern. As Senator Bingaman recently commented, the settlement represents an “equitable solution for everyone affected” and hopefully it will inspire resolutions of and unique approaches to other difficult issues facing New Mexico.
- Sandia Mountain is sacred to the people of the Sandia Pueblo - it is the center of their religion and culture.
For at least the last 600 years, the Sandia people have occupied the area around the Rio Grande and on the western side of Sandia Mountain. A 1748 Spanish land grant, confirmed by Congress in the Act of December 22, 1858, 11 Stat. 374, sets the Pueblo's eastern boundary as the main ridge of Sandia Mountain. However, an 1859 Interior Department survey ran the boundary in the foothills, excluding approximately 10,000 acres from the grant area.
- Because of growing interference with the practice of their religion on the Mountain, the Pueblo began to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding it's original land grant and was ultimately successful in locating the originals. In the early 1980s the Pueblo petitioned the Interior Department to correct the faulty survey of the Pueblo's eastern boundary. In April of 1987, after independently investigating the matter, the Department was on the verge of issuing a decision recognizing the Pueblo’s claim. However, that opinion was leaked by the Department of Agriculture to the press, and political pressure was brought to bear on Interior to prevent the issuance of the draft opinion. As a consequence, in December of 1988, a radically different opinion was issued, denying the Pueblo’s claim.
- After unsuccessful efforts to have the Department reconsider its claim, the Pueblo was forced in December 1994 to file a lawsuit against the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture. The amended complaint in the lawsuit specifically disclaimed any title to private lands.
- In July 1998 the U.S. District Court vacated the 1988 Solicitor's opinion and remanded the matter back to the Interior Department. The court found that the Pueblo had presented an eminently reasonable interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the grant of their land and, in light of the government's trust responsibilities, should have prevailed. The district court found that the Secretary violated the Administrative Procedure Act in denying the Pueblo's claim for a corrected land survey and accordingly vacated the Solicitor's opinion as arbitrary and capricious.
- While notices of appeal were pending, the Pueblo agreed to participate in mediation with the federal agencies and interested local parties. On April 4, 2000, the Pueblo reached a comprehensive settlement with the Departments of Justice, Agriculture and the Interior and the Sandia Peak Tram Company. Unfortunately, the County of Bernalillo, City of Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountain Coalition refused to support the settlement. Their appeal was fully briefed and argued, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously dismissed it on November 17, 2000. (231 F.3d 878.)
- In accordance with the court’s remand order, the Interior Department proceeded to reconsider the matter and on January 19, 2001, issued a 31-page opinion that carefully analyzed the factual and legal issues, and concluded that the Pueblo's eastern boundary extended to the crest of Sandia Mountain. However, Interior delayed a resurvey and transfer of administration over the area in order to afford time to implement the settlement worked out between the Pueblo, the federal agencies and the Tram Company.