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Tribal land settlement in 'must pass' legislation

For the second time in recent months, the Senate has approved settlement of a New Mexico tribe's long-simmering land claim.

Attached to the $309 billion omnibus appropriations act that cleared the chamber last night was legislation to end Sandia Pueblo's claim to 10,000 acres within the Sandia Mountains. The amendment, backed by Sens. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), passed on a voice vote.

That was the easy part. Now, the lawmakers said, it is up to the House to give its nod to the deal, brokered by the tribe, a private company, two federal agencies, two New Mexico counties, and a few hundred landowners.

"It has taken a lot of cooperative effort to reach this point," said Domenici, who will sit on a committee to work out the Senate and House versions of the spending bill.

"We've crossed one major hurdle, and only one remains," added Bingaman, former chairman of one of the committees that shepherded the package through the last congressional session. He called the appropriations act a "must-pass" item.

As recently as last spring, the settlement was opposed by Domenici and some of the county and landowner representatives. Domenici, who created a federally protected wilderness area that the tribe said was wrongly excluded from its reservation, changed course when the other parties said they stood behind the agreement.

The bill preserves the 10,000 acres as the T'uf Shur Bien Preservation Trust Area. The name means Green Reed Mountain in the Tiwa language, spoken at Sandia Pueblo.

Title to the preserve will remain with the United States and despite its name, it will not be held in trust for the tribe. But the bill directs the Department of Interior to hold in trust a 160-acre tract, located outside of the area, that the Pueblo recently purchased. Other fee land the tribe owns will also be held in trust.

The tribe has significant rights to the land even without trust status. The bill grants criminal and civil jurisdiction over tribal members and American Indians. Tribal members and some from other tribes use the area for religious purposes and hunting and gathering.

The tribe also has veto authority over any proposed development. Since landowners and conservation groups support preservation, this isn't expected to be a controversial provision.

When Congress finally ratifies the bill and it is signed by the President, the tribe's lawsuit over the land will officially be over. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., directed the Interior to resurvey the land, a move that was all but guaranteed to include the missing 10,000 acres.

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) introduced the House version, identical to the Senate one, of the settlement earlier this month.

Get the Bill:
Sandia Amendment [starting on page S1277] | Omnibus Appropriations Act

Related Solicitor Opinons:
Tarr Opinion (December 9, 1988) | Tarr Opinion Reconsidered (December 5, 2000) | Eastern Boundary of Sandia Pueblo (January 19, 2001)

Related Decisions:
Sandia v. Babbitt (December 1996) | Sandia v. Babbitt (July 1998) | Pueblo of Sandia v. Babbitt (November 2000)

Relevant Links:
Sandia Pueblo - http://www.sandiapueblo.nsn.us

Related Stories:
Compromise on Pueblo land claim bill reached (10/07)
Sandia land claim bill unchanged (10/1)
Pueblo makes key land purchase (9/11)
Pueblo wants changes to land claim bill
Pueblo land claim approaches settlement (8/01)
Pueblo wants changes to land claim bill (8/01)
Senate panel considers Pueblo land bill (7/31)
County criticizes Pueblo for 'ploy' (7/19)
Clinton-era opinion at center of Pueblo claim (4/25)
Pueblo settlement in hands of Congress (4/25)
Domenici opposes Pueblo land claim bill (4/24)
Bush nominee has no 'agenda' on Clinton decisions (6/21)
Interior nominees face Senate hearing (6/20)
Photo exhibit mixes art, history, politics (5/9)
Sandia Pueblo wins boundary dispute (1/23)
Clinton asked to delay Sandia Mountain decision (1/09)
Pueblo continues Sandia Mountain fight (12/13)
Domenici: Pueblo shouldn't own Mountain (12/12)
Interior seeks comments on Pueblo resurvey (12/12)
Landowners thrown out of Pueblo claim (11/20)

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