Inside the Capitol

Sunday, September 04, 2005

9-12 Is All New Mexico Sacred?

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Might all of New Mexico eventually be declared ancestral land of present day Indian tribes? That possibility arose at a recent meeting of the state Cultural Properties Review Committee.
The committee voted unanimously to table issuance of a permit for the city of Santa Fe to proceed with replacing its old convention center with a new one on the same site.
The problem is that human remains have been found at the site and representatives of pueblos north of Santa Fe think they may be ancestors. That possibility is likely enough that the committee wants the city and the pueblos to work out their differences before a permit is issued.
The state has a tribal consultation policy on the protection of sacred sites. The policy requires "a good-faith effort" to identify tribes that may have objections and assurance that those tribes are consulted.
The vague language causes further problems. Santa Fe says it has made a good-faith effort to identify tribes with objections. It says 21 notification letters were mailed to tribes in New Mexico and Arizona.
The consultation part is more difficult. Tesuque, the closest pueblo to Santa Fe, says there has been only one consultation and that was initiated by the pueblo.
The big question is whether that one consultation was sufficient and if more are needed, do they have to result in agreement? The committee did not answer that question and rejected an attempt by the Cultural Affairs Department secretary to enter the discussion.
No one is optimistic about where those talks will lead. The city says it has offered to make a formal presentation to Tesuque Pueblo, but it already is well on its way toward building the $54 million convention center.
Tesuque, and all 18 other New Mexico pueblos, adamantly oppose any further construction on the site. Despite the nearby pueblos having convention centers of their own, either in existence or in the planning stage, they say they are not opposed to the city building a convention center in a different location. Of course, that one could end up being on sacred ground too.
The state Office of Archaeological Studies, which is conducting the dig for the city, isn't hopeful either. Steve Lentz, the project manager of the civic center dig, says with Native American and Anglo relationships being what they are, he is "not terribly optimistic."
It is OAS Director Timothy Maxwell who asks the big question. "As development continues in New Mexico -- say we go to other locations and find other sites, is there nothing that can be done each time?"
Maxwell says he's not sure how archaeologists and non-Indians should approach the issue, but "it's something we've got to confront." He adds, if consultation requires that the parties reach agreement, the process "could go on forever."
It's not likely that Santa Fe will be the only New Mexico town to have to confront this issue. The pueblos at one time were spread more widely. The Apaches roamed freely over the south and Navajos throughout the north.
Last year, an Oklahoma Apache tribe announced its desire to build a casino near Deming because that was ancestral land. In 1996 Indians in Washington State successfully claimed the remains of the 9,000-year-old Kennewick Man. After eight years of court action, scientists got to study the bones.
And remember that New Mexico has evidence of human life dating back over 11,000 years at Clovis, Blackwater Draw, Folsom and probably many other locations.
The balance of economic progress with respect for another culture will always be a touchy one in New Mexico because our Indian tribes survived the European onslaught better here than those elsewhere.
New Mexico tribes understand how important economic development is to our state, so how about a little flexibility, folks? And how about showing us your archaeological studies of the land where you put your big casinos? Seems like there might be bones there too.
MON, 9-12-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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