ALBUQUERQUE (CN) — The Pueblo of Acoma sued New Mexico on Columbus Day, claiming that commercial land it bought outside the reservation is tribal land, and cannot be taxed.
Acoma Pueblo, about 60 miles west of Albuquerque, has about 5,000 tribal members. The Acoma have lived on their mesa since around 1100, making the Pueblo one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the modern-day United States.
Acoma is within the boundaries of Cibola County, though since the founding of the nation, the federal government, not the states, have had jurisdiction over Native American lands.
In 2004, the Pueblo bought two commercial tracts of land in Cibola County, about 8.7 acres, outside the grant boundary of the Acoma Pueblo reservation. The Pueblo has refused to pay taxes on the land since the Cibola County assessor first tried to collect the tax in 2005.
Now, after receiving notice from the county that the lands will be sold at auction on Oct. 18, due to $30,387.99 in delinquent property taxes, the Pueblo claims that the plots are tribal land and cannot be taxed by the state.
The heart of the Pueblo’s argument is a 1905 federal law, which states that “lands now held by the various villages or pueblos of Pueblo Indians, or by individual members thereof, within Pueblo reservations or lands, in the Territory of New Mexico, and all personal property furnished said Indians by the United States, or used in cultivating said lands, and any cattle and sheep now possessed, or that may hereafter be acquired by said Indians shall be fee and exempt from taxation of any sort whatsoever, including taxes heretofore levied, if any, until Congress shall otherwise provide.”
That 1905 law was not overridden when the Congress authorized the creation of New Mexico as a state in 1910, and it was upheld by the 1924 Pueblo Lands Act, the Pueblo says. And 1937 New Mexico state court ruling held that Valencia County could not tax fee lands owned by the Acoma Pueblo, according to the complaint.
The Pueblos seek declaratory judgment that the New Mexico Secretary of Taxation and Revenue and Cibola County have no authority to tax them, that to do so would violate the Pueblo’s sovereign immunity. They want the land sale enjoined, and the state and county enjoined from any further attempts to levy or collect taxes.
The Pueblo is represented by Joe Tenorio, with the Chestnut Law Offices in Albuquerque.
None of the parties could be reached immediately by telephone for comment Thursday.
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