Submitted by carchuleta on Wed, 07/25/2018 - 08:00

For the past several years, the Land Grant Council has been working with land grants-mercedes throughout the State and with the Congressional delegation to develop federal legislation that addresses historical injustices resulting from the incomplete implementation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. [see attached briefing paper on Land Grant History and Current Legislation below]  Today, Congressman Ben Ray Luján introduced the “Land Grant and Acequia Traditional Use Recognition Act” (H.R. 6487), which provides for greater consultation between the federal government and New Mexico’s land grants-mercedes and acequias. If passed land grant-merced communities in New Mexico would, for the first time, receive federal recognition of traditional uses (such as fuelwood or herb gathering) on former common lands managed by federal agencies.   

On July 13th, Congressman Steve Pearce introduced the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Land Claims Act of 2018” (H.R. 6365), which would examine the impact that the unjust adjudication of the land claims had on land grant-merced communities.  Representatives of the governing bodies of land grants-mercedes would have an opportunity to appear in front of a commission to present how the loss of land to the federal government has impacted the economic, environmental, and social well-being of their communities.  The commission would then make recommendations for restitution to Congress, including possible land returns.

The New Mexico Land Grant Council is in full support of the bills introduced by Congressmen Luján and Pearce.  The proposed federal legislation is the culmination of the combined efforts of the Council, the New Mexico Land Grant Consejo (a grassroots land grant-merced organization), and individual land grant-merced governing boards and heirs, who have worked with the Congressional delegation to address the federal ownership of former land grant common lands, a longstanding and unresolved issue effecting New Mexico’s land grant-merced communities.

“It’s a momentous occasion when two federal bills addressing land grants-mercedes are introduced in the same month,” said New Mexico Land Grant Council Chairman Juan Sánchez.  “These issues surrounding the federal control of land grant-merced common lands have gone unresolved far too long and land grant communities have suffered many hardships as a result.  We applaud these efforts by Congressman Luján and Congressman Pearce and will work toward the passage of this important legislation.”

New Mexico Land Grant Consejo President Leonard Martínez stated, “Since its creation in 2006, the New Mexico Land Grant Consejo has worked closely with land grants and our representatives in Congress to address the injustices perpetrated on our communities.  These pieces of legislation are a step in that direction.”  

In announcing the introduction of H.R. 6487, Congressman Luján’s stated, “New Mexico’s acequias and land grants have been part of our communities, our families, our villages, and our agriculture economy for generations . . . I’m proud to introduce legislation that formally recognizes how land grants and acequias use and care for our land because I know firsthand their importance to our state. My legislation will also help ensure that the federal government consults with land grants and acequias when taking actions that might impact local communities.”

Congressman Pearce’s statement accompanying the introduction of H.R. 6365 called it 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.”  “I believe it is time that the federal government upholds what was promised. Justice is long past due for these communities,” Pearce stated.

The New Mexico Land Grant Council is a state agency whose mission is to support to land grants-mercedes throughout New Mexico, including to develop and promote federal legislation for an appropriate congressional response to longstanding community land grant claims in New Mexico.  Additional information about the Council’s efforts can be obtained by contacting the Council’s program manager, Arturo Archuleta at 505.328.4104 or the Council’s research historian, Dr. Jacobo Baca at 505.400.9426, or at nmlandgrantcouncil@unm.edu