Issues of concern to people who live in the west: property rights, water rights, endangered species, livestock grazing, energy production, wilderness and western agriculture. Plus a few items on western history, western literature and the sport of rodeo... Frank DuBois served as the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003. DuBois is a former legislative assistant to a U.S. Senator, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior, and is the founder of the DuBois Rodeo Scholarship.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Learning center says it’s ‘penned in’ after NM Supreme Court decision on pueblo road dispute
The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that it is “settled federal law”
that Indian tribes enjoy immunity from lawsuits, even when access to
what had been a public road is at issue. The doctrine of tribal
sovereign immunity “is a wholesale bar to suit against a tribe in New
Mexico for any relief — be it monetary, declaratory or injunctive,” the
high court held in an opinion issued last week. The doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity “is a wholesale bar to suit against a tribe in New Mexico for any relief – be it monetary, declaratory or injunctive,” the high court held in an opinion issued last week.
The ruling has left Hamaatsa, Inc., an Indian-run, nonprofit learning center with a farm that offers indigenous story camps and other programs in Sandoval County, with no way in or out of its property adjacent to San Felipe Pueblo, said Hamaatsa’s Deborah Littlebird.
She said that, Monday afternoon, cattle-guard gates across a disputed access road had been locked. “We are trapped in here like wild animals,” Littlebird said. “They just penned us in.” Hamaatsa’s 320 acres is next to land that the federal Bureau of Land Management conveyed to the pueblo in 2001. In the conveyance, the BLM reserved a 40-foot-wide easement along an existing road for “full use as a road by the United States for public purposes.”
But, in 2009, San Felipe notified the nonprofit that it had no right to cross pueblo property and that use of the road was trespassing. In filing suit, Hamaatsa said the land crossed by the road had belonged to the BLM since 1906 and the road had been a public road since at least 1935. Hamaatsa said the road provides its only access.
The pueblo asserted sovereign immunity, but both District Judge John F. Davis and the Court of Appeals refused to dismiss the suit. The appeals court said San Felipe offered no evidence “of any property or governance interests whatsoever in the road or that the road, concededly a state public road, would threaten or otherwise affect its sovereignty.” If simply asserting sovereign immunity constituted grounds for dismissal, the appeals court maintained, a pueblo could acquire any land crossed by a public road and “immediately deny the motoring public and all neighboring property owners access.” But the Supreme Court said the “unequivocal precedent” of the U.S. Supreme Court is that the only exceptions to tribal sovereign immunity are congressional authorization and a tribe’s own waiver of immunity. The argument that the doctrine deprives Hamaatsa of legal recourse isn’t sufficient, the state Supreme Court said.
“We commiserate with the less-than-ideal situation Hamaatsa now finds itself in,” the opinion written by Justice Barbara Vigil said. But, she added, “The beneficial aspects of tribal sovereign immunity in advancing the welfare and self-sufficiency of Indian tribes demand its application in all cases where Congress does not otherwise provide.”...more