ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Leaders of an American Indian community in northern New Mexico are not giving up on efforts to reclaim the Valles Caldera National Preserve as their own.
Jemez Pueblo considers the nearly 140-square-mile swath of federally-managed public land as a "spiritual sanctuary" and part of its traditional homeland.
The tribe went before a panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals during a special hearing at the University of New Mexico law school in hopes of keeping alive its lawsuit against the federal government. The question is whether the tribe still holds aboriginal title to the land.
Karl Johnson, an attorney representing the pueblo, outlined for the court how Spanish land-grant heirs came to hold title to the land following a swap more than 150 years ago. The federal government then purchased the property in 2000 with the goal of operating it as a working ranch while developing recreational opportunities for the public.
"Almost immediately the United States began restricting the pueblo's access to the property and interfering with its traditional, religious and ceremonial uses of the property in which it had been engaged for hundreds and hundreds of years," Johnson told the justices.