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Suit challenges aboriginal title to Valles Caldera

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Courts > Motion to dismiss argues earlier claims trump Jemez Pueblo

By Arin McKenna

Second in a two-part series

In the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the Jemez Pueblo lawsuit to reclaim tribal lands in Valles Caldera National Preserve, the government asserts that earlier land claims litigation divested the pueblo of its aboriginal title.

“Since around the beginning of the last century, popular understanding of Indian land rights has been based upon a political and cultural assumption that somehow or other all aboriginal Indian titles outside of BIA recognized reservation boundaries as somehow or other ‘taken,’” said Attorney Tom Luebben, who is representing Jemez Pueblo.

The government argument leans heavily on a claim that Jemez lost its aboriginal title in 1860 when Congress settled a claim by heirs of Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca by awarding them 500,000 acres within the New Mexico Territory. The Federal Land Department approved the 99,289-acre Baca Location No. 1, including the Valles Caldera, as part of that acreage.


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