A church in Abiquiu, a community in northern New Mexico that was established by Genízaros, or former Indian and mixed-race Indian slaves. Photo: Mary Madigan

'Historical injustices': Bill seeks study of treaty claims

A new bill in Congress is offering some hope to Spanish and mixed Spanish-Indian communities in New Mexico for land they thought was protected by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The treaty, which ended the war between the United States and Mexico, promised to honor land grants that had been made to tribes, individuals and communities by the governments of Spain and Mexico. But while tribal land rights have been reviewed at least twice by the federal government, other communities say they have been denied justice for more than 150 years.

"Like the Pueblos and tribes we are the only other community groups in the Southwest that have prior title claims to portions of lands now managed by the federal government," Candido Arturo Archuleta, Jr., a representative of the New Mexico Land Grant Council, says in written testimony in support of H.R.6365, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo Land Claims Act.

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico) introduced H.R.6365 in July. His bill would establish the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Land Grant-Merced Claims Commission to examine the claims of these communities and make recommendations regarding their claims.

"These communities were promised that they would not be disenfranchised at statehood," Pearce, who is the Republican nominee for governor of New Mexico, said in a July 13 statement. "Unfortunately, this was not the case for all of them. This bill is an effort to provide these communities another chance to have their claims reviewed to ensure the terms that these families were originally promised by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo are upheld."

The commission, if enacted into law, would only make recommendations on claims affecting federal land. Private properties, or land managed by the state of New Mexico, would not be involved.

But Archuleta, in his written testimony, said the process could lead to the return of federal land to affected grant-merced communities. He cited examples of tribes gaining control of lands previously managed by the United States.

"H.R.6365 represents an important first step in addressing and rectifying longstanding historical injustices that have crippled land grant-merced communities in the Southwest," Archuleta said.

Lawmakers from New Mexico began laying the groundwork to review such claims more than two decades ago. A 2001 report from the Government Accountability Office, then known as the General Accounting Office, identified 152 community grants, of which 22 were grants to Pueblo tribes. The remaining grants were those set aside for Spanish and mixed Spanish-Indian communities, or grants that included land to be held or managed in common for such communities, according to experts consulted by the GAO.

Of the 22 tribal grants, 20 are for the Pueblo tribes whose communities remain in existence. The other two were for Pueblo communities that are no longer occupied.

The House Subcommittee on Federal Lands is taking testimony on H.R.6365 at a legislative hearing on Thursday morning. The next step would be for the bill to be considered at a markup of the entire House Committee on Natural Resources.

House Subcommittee on Federal Lands Notice
Legislative Hearing on Federal Land Bills (September 6, 2018)

Government Accountability Office Report
TREATY OF GUADALUPE HIDALGO: Definition and List of Community Land Grants in New Mexico (January 2001)

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