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Federal judge dismisses Jemez Pueblo suit seeking return of Valles Caldera

A judge has ruled against Jemez Pueblo's legal effort seeking return of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, shown here after a snow last winter, as part of the pueblo's ancestral lands.
A judge has ruled against Jemez Pueblo's legal effort seeking return of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, shown here after a snow last winter, as part of the pueblo's ancestral lands.
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A federal judge has dismissed Jemez Pueblo’s lawsuit that sought return the Valles Caldera National Preserve  to the pueblo, Valles Caldera Trust Board of Trustees Chairman Kent Salazar said in a statement issued this morning.

The court decision was made Tuesday, according to the statement.

“We will continue to work closely with the Pueblo nonetheless to ensure the cultural history, spiritual significance and the landscape are preserved for generations to come. It is what we do as the Valles Caldera Trust and what we are committed to as friends and neighbors of the Pueblo of Jemez,” Salazar said.

Jemez Pueblo leaders say the federally owned 95,000-acre preserve in the Jemez Mountains is part of their ancestral lands.    

In testimony before a Senate committee concerning the preserve, former Jemez Gov. Joshua Madalena said: “The Valles Caldera is our cathedral. It is just as important for us as the Vatican is for Catholics, and as the famous Blue Lake is to Taos Pueblo.  It is where the spirits of our ancestors reside, and it is our most important spiritual place.”

In responding to the lawsuit earlier this year, the federal government maintained that any aboriginal land claims by Jemez Pueblo were settled long ago and can’t be raised again.

According to the U.S. government’s filing, any such land claims had to be filed between Aug. 13, 1946, and Aug. 13, 1951, with the Indian Claims Commission, which had exclusive jurisdiction to rule on such claims.

Barely a month before the end of that time period, Jemez Pueblo, together with Zia and Santa Ana pueblos, filed a claim seeking compensation for about 520,000 acres of land. The Indian Claims Commission ruled the three pueblos had not proven aboriginal use and occupancy. But on appeal, the Court of Claims found in favor of the pueblos on 298,634 acres of that land.

On Jan. 10, 1974, the pueblos agreed to a final judgment of $749,084 for that land, according to the federal government’s motion to dismiss the suit.

“Once paid, the award of the Commission barred the tribe from litigating claims against the United States,” the Department of Justice argued..

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