Three months after the February meeting, the New Mexico attorney general's office announced that the state's Office of Cultural Affairs had failed to adequately notify nearby private property owners about the meeting, although it did provide proper notice in the media. The meeting -- and by default, the designation -- had therefore violated the state's Open Meetings Act.
The Historic Preservation Division scheduled a new meeting for June 14, 2008, at Grants High School. By then, both sides were up to speed on the proposal. But rumors about everything from the number of acres involved to how the designation might affect local land-users were stoking anger and suspicion. The state police attended the meeting; officers from local departments came as well.
When the day came, protesters gathered with hand-lettered signs bearing slogans that ranged from "Mount Taylor is public land, not reservation" to "Save Our Sacred Mountain."
Following a Cibola County commissioners meeting in April, the governor of Zuni Pueblo, Norman Cooeyate, and the governor of Laguna had written to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, requesting a neutral location for the meeting due to the "level of hostility and potential air of racism experienced by our council/community members and as exhibited by local community members of Grants and Milan."
But that request was denied. And as an estimated 700 people filed into the gymnasium and took seats in facing bleachers, the divisions became all too clear: There was "an eerie sense of cowboys and Indians facing off," Gallup Independent reporter Helen Davis wrote, "because many Native observers wore traditional clothing and cowboy hats dominated head gear in the stands across the gym." Those were the "pro-uranium people," says Cooeyate. "And you had all the people who were against uranium on the other side -- and that included a lot of what we call ourselves, the brown faces."
As the five hours of testimony unfolded, opponents repeatedly disrupted statements by Native Americans, Cooeyate says. "They jeered, they sneered, they booed every time there was a comment that was made from the tribal leadership or any of the people that supported us."
But other locals complained that the state was giving Native Americans preferential treatment. Opponents also criticized the involvement of environmental groups, saying it proved that the tribes were using religion and tradition to block mining altogether. They expressed fears that the tribes were trying to take over public lands.
After the meeting, Cooeyate says, some TCP opponents yelled obscenities at tribal elders in the parking lot.
As the final meeting -- set for May 15, 2009, in Santa Fe -- approached, even the all-weather notebook at the summit of Mount Taylor reflected community anxiety. Many of the comments simply described trips up the mountain -- JR and Douglas cleared trees off the trail while riding their Arctic Cat 700 ATVs, folks on New Year's Eve braved the wind, and one man and his 6-year-old son took six hours and 13 minutes to snowshoe up the trail in March. Others, however, denounced the designation. "TCP still sucks, mountain belongs to us all, not just the Indians," was not an uncommon sentiment.