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Know the West

Tribes, residents find a solution in the Sandias

  Congress has settled a long-standing dispute between an Indian tribe, the federal government and private landowners over the western face of the Sandia Mountains (HCN, 11/9/98: Who controls the sandias?).

Starting in 1976, Sandia Pueblo fought to reclaim about 10,000 acres of private and national forest land. Citing a 1748 Spanish land grant, the tribe says that a mid-19th century federal survey incorrectly drew the reservation’s boundary in the foothills of the Sandias, instead of at the crest of the mountains. The tribe ran up against not only the federal government, but also an alliance of homeowners and recreationists, who feared losing clear title to their land, access for utilities, and public use of the mountains.

In February, Congress tried to find some middle ground. Passed in an omnibus spending bill, the T’uf Shur Bien Preservation Trust Act, sponsored by New Mexico Senators Jeff Bingaman, D, and Pete Domenici, R, keeps the disputed lands in the national forest. The pueblo will gain permanent rights to use the land for religious and hunting purposes, however, and has the right to veto new uses of the land. The homeowners are pleased. “We’re having a big party,” says Anita Miller of the Sandia Mountain Coalition.

Sandia Gov. Stuwart Paisano says the pueblo had to concede the most by giving up its claim to ownership, but he says, “we can live with it.”