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Law
Trust land decision for New Mexico Pueblos upheld


A Bureau of Indian Affairs decision to take off-reservation land into trust for New Mexico's 19 Pueblos was upheld by a federal appeals court on Wednesday.

A group of non-Indians called Neighbors for Rational Development sought to block the trust land acquisition. Among other claims, the group said the BIA failed to conduct an environmental analysis, address jurisdictional issues and consider the impact on local tax rolls.

A federal judge in Albuquerque initially agreed that the BIA's handling was faulty. But after more information was submitted, the judge upheld the acquisition.

Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals did the same. They said the Neighbors couldn't stop the decision because it involved Indian lands, which are not covered under a federal law governing land title disputes. The judges returned the dispute to the lower court with instructions to end it.

Located near downtown Albuquerque and just off a major interstate, the land in question has been used for the benefit of Indians for more than a century. It was set aside by an executive order in 1884.

The BIA opened the Albuquerque Indian School on the property to serve students from the 19 Pueblos. The school, however, closed in 1981 and the land fell into non-use. The tribes made various attempts to clean up the property over the years but there was no major development.

The plans changed when the tribes, through the All Indian Pueblo Council, sought to have the 44 acres placed in trust. They started work to use the land for commercial office space. The tribes plan to lease to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and the Office of Special Trustee.

At first, the city of Albuquerque objected to trust status for the land, citing zoning and property tax issues. But in December 2002, Mayor Martin Chavez and Pueblo governors signed an agreement to allow development to move forward.

Under the 30-year agreement, he tribes will abide by city zoning and planning laws. In exchange, the city will provide municipal services to the property.

The land is located across the street from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

Get the Decision:
NEIGHBORS FOR RATIONAL DEVELOPMENT v. NORTON (August 4, 2004)

Relevant Links:
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center - http://www.indianpueblo.org