Homeowners Worry About Access Via Rez

     ALBUQUERQUE (CN) – A landowners group sued the Bureau of Indian Affairs, claiming it’s trying to deny them access to their property on roads that cross tribal land, a right they claim has existed for 160 years.
     Northern New Mexicans Protecting Land, Water and Rights sued the B.I.A. and the Department of the Interior on Tuesday in Federal Court, demanding access to six roads north of Santa Fe.
     The landowners claim that rights-of-way across tribal lands were established in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, after the Mexican-American War, and re-established in cases throughout the next century and a half.
     They claim the roads in question predate 1900, as state or county roads, and that the B.I.A. is revoking the easements without providing any alternative access.
     The roads at issue – County Roads 84, 84A, 84B, 84C, 84D and Sandy Way – are between Santa Fe and Espanola, in an area with breathtaking views and high property values. Many homes on 84 and Sandy Way are listed in the $500,000 range. The area is dotted with small reservations known as pueblos.
     Due to the peculiar nature of Native American law, such rights of way issues are not unusual in the West.
     Virtually all tribes were thrown off their land at one time, then sometimes allowed to return. On occasions, the federal government carved out islands of land inside a reservation for the Anglo settlers who had moved there. Sometimes the rights of way were not legally established, but the tribe allowed the Anglos to stay put. The Anglos then, whether they “owned” the land or not, depended upon tribal goodwill to maintain access.
     The federal government’s exclusive right to deal with the tribes – bypassing the states – often complicated roads issues.
     Neither side in this case immediately responded to requests for comment.
     The landowners claim the B.I.A. violated their constitutional right to equal protection, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Administrative Procedure Act.
     They seek declaratory judgment and costs.
     They are represented by A. Blair Dunn, with WARBA LLP, in Albuquerque.
     (Editor’s note: After this story had been posted for a day, the Northern New Mexicans Protecting Land, Water and Rights complained of “errors and omissions” in it.
     (Among other things, the group denied, as Courthouse News reported, that “The area is dotted with small reservations known as pueblos.”
     (“Actually, no, the area is dominated by large Spanish land grants that were legally titled to local tribes,” the group wrote. “The entire community in question is surrounded by a land grant issued by the Spanish to the San Ildefonso Indians during the colonization of New Mexico in the 16th-19th centuries.” The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed the land rights under the new government, the United States, and “Native property holders enjoyed the same property rights as all other Spanish/Mexican land grantees,” according to the NMML.
     (The group denies that New Mexico tribes were ever “thrown off their land” or that the U.S. government ever “carve[d] out islands of land inside a reservation for the Anglo settlers.” It says there was no need for rights-of-way at the time since roads were “free for all to use” under Spanish and Mexican law.
     (The group says that “confirmed land grant owners have owned these lands since the 18th century and it is their descendants that now live in El Rancho. They have never ‘depended upon tribal goodwill’ for access to these properties.
     (It characterized the Courthouse News report as “faulty and fluffy fiction,” and concluded: “We take offense at the way our case has been presented in your publication and would request that if you have any integrity of reporting that you take the superfluous and fallacious content out of this news story or actually have someone do the research necessary to correctly report the complexity of the case we have filed.”
     (Courthouse News stands by its story.)

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