Inside the Capitol

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Another Texas Land Grab

WED, 3-12-08

SANTA FE - The Togas have always tried to get along with their conquerors. Originally they were the Isleta Pueblo, south of present-day Albuquerque. They cooperated with the Spanish colonization in 1598, when other pueblos fought to retain their land.
During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, they sided with the Spanish, fleeing down the Rio Grande with them to establish Ysleta Pueblo del Sur, southeast of present-day El Paso, Texas.
After the Spanish retook present-day New Mexico, some of the Isletas reestablished their pueblo and others stayed at Ysleta del Sur. The name Tigua refers to their Tiwa language, which they share with four other pueblos.
When Texas gained its independence from Mexico, the Togas became loyal Texans. Texas returned their loyalty, in 1871, by stripping the pueblo of the land it had been granted by the Spanish government and reaffirmed by the Mexican and U.S. governments. The city of Ysleta, Texas, now occupies the 23,000 acres formerly owned by the pueblo.
That wasn't the end of the Togas' shabby treatment by Texas. When the federal government approved casinos on Indian land, Texas entered into an agreement with the pueblo to allow the creation of Speaking Rock Casino
A few years later, Jack Abramoff, now in federal prison for corruption, prevailed on the state to revoke the agreement and close the casino. Subsequently, the Togas paid Abramoff millions to get their casino reopened. But the new deal fell through, with Abramoff collecting millions more from competing interests.
A little over a year ago, the Togas asked the U.S. Interior Department to conduct a study of whether Texas had violated federal law when it took the pueblo's land. The resulting 172-page report concluded that Texas stole the land.
The Interior Department has now entered into an agreement with the Togas stipulating its responsibility to help the pueblo develop its land and water rights claims "and to take actions consistent with those rights."
Both parties have agreed to keep the specifics confidential. Those specifics could include a suit by the federal government against which Texas cannot claim sovereign immunity.
The Texas governor's office has let its feelings be known, stating "Texas faces serious challenges on a number of issues and real problems that need to be addressed. This isn't one of them."
It may not be quite that easy to blow off the federal government. The Togas have many serious problems that need addressed, and without land or water rights, they don't have many solutions.
Certainly New Mexico never has taken land from any of its 19 pueblos. We also are well aware of Texas' penchant for grabbing land. Twice, in the 1800s, we repelled Texas invasions designed to take our entire state.
The Texans finally had to settle for taking over 600,000 acres along our eastern border as part of its agreement with Congress to allow us to become a state.
Congress originally established the New Mexico-Texas boundary at the 103rd meridian. In 1859, an incompetent surveyor mapped a line that varied from 1.5 to 3.7 miles west of where it should have been, according to Roswell historian Elvis Fleming.
Texas was able to reject a more accurate survey of the border through its clout in Congress. The acreage was important to the Texas Legislature because it was selling land along the New Mexico border, at the time, to finance a magnificent capitol building. New Mexico land ended up paying for a chunk of that building.
The New Mexico Legislature has tried many times to regain the lost land. In 1912, as soon as we became a state, the Legislature appropriated money to prosecute such suits as were necessary to get our land back. Subsequent legislatures appropriated additional amounts through 1931.
But New Mexico had agreed to give up the land in order to get the permission of Texas for statehood, as required by Congress. We protested that we had to surrender the land under duress but we couldn't get a court to agree.
May the Togas fare better.

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