Land grant claims won't go away

 

Some of my neighbors in northern New Mexico call this region “occupied Mexico.” They're only half joking. Heirs of community land grants made by the Spanish and Mexican governments are still arguing – 160 years later – that the U.S. did not honor its obligations under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty promised to protect all pre-existing land grants and other property rights of the former Mexican citizens when the U.S. took this territory from Mexico. But it didn’t.

As a result, over 80 percent of community land grants were lost to Indo-Hispano villagers, in most cases after a century, or two or three, of living and working on those lands. All the Indian Pueblos retained their land grants, which became reservations under the U.S. system, but most of the rest ended up as Forest Service or BLM land.

Of course this is not the first or last time the U.S. violated a treaty for land, but this fight is still going strong.

In the latest issue of La Jicarita News, scholar David Correia reviews the well-documented history of fraud and various chicanery within the office of the Surveyor General and the Court of Private Land Grant Claims, which were supposed to adjudicate land claims during the late 1800s. And he lays out a convincing legal argument about how the U.S. government did not fulfill its fiduciary duty under the treaty.

Correia’s article is part of a concerted response by local activists, scholars, attorneys, county governments and the New Mexico Attorney General to a 2004 report on community land grants from the Government Accountability Office. The GAO report, predictably, absolved the government of any wrongdoing, saying that having an adjudication process was all it was required to do (even though that process was riddled with corruption and incompetence).

There’s no question that people around here have long memories and know how to hold a grudge. But it’s more than that. The persistent poverty in this part of New Mexico – along with the substance abuse Angela Garcia wrote about in HCN two years ago – are linked to the “historical trauma” of losing traditional lands, livelihoods and cultural identity. It’s not unusual at community meetings for some weather-worn old timer to pull a tattered copy of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo out of his back pocket, emotionally quote it chapter and verse and ask when the government is going to give him access the ancestral land.

Against this historical backdrop, I was stunned once to hear a local enviro (an individual well known for his inflammatory and confrontational statements) blithely dismiss the idea of returning land grants to their rightful heirs as “the agenda of the ‘wise-use’ movement dressed up as social justice.”

Activists have considered any number of ways to rectify the social and economic consequences of losing their land grants – priority access to grant lands, economic development assistance, educational scholarships, federal trust funds for land grant communities or just getting the land back. Since this fight is not going away any time soon, I’m curious what others think.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Western Watersheds Project seeks a Tenth Circuit Staff Attorney to bring litigation in the interests of protecting and restoring western watersheds and wildlife, particularly focused...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....