SANTA FE, N.M. — Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar called it a “historic day” as he signed regulations at Sandia Pueblo on Thursday morning that will allow the tribe to lease land without federal approval.
The pueblo is only the second tribe in the country to take advantage of a law, called the HEARTH Act (Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Home Ownership Act of 2012), which was signed last year. Prior to the law, any long-term leases for residential, business, or other purposes – large or small – needed approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“This important step today on the HEARTH Act brings to closure a sad saga of the United States not trusting Indian country,” Salazar said at the signing.
The regulations at Sandia, which has about 400 tribal members, will only apply to business leases.
“That will mean there will be less bureaucratic red tape, because (control) will be delegated down to the pueblo itself,” Salazar said.
Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, former dean of the University of New Mexico School of Law, was also on hand for the signing. He said before the change, there was often a backlog for lease approvals that caused delays in development on reservations.
“It was often lengthy,” he said. “One of the problems was there was a concern that the people who wanted to do the lease would walk away before the lease was actually approved because they didn’t want to wait around for that.”
Sandia Gov. Victor Montoya said the tribe is “confident” in its ability to execute leases. He said the tribe is hoping to prompt more economic development on the southern border of the pueblo and is right now putting in drainage systems.
In the past, tribal leaders have talked of preliminary plans to develop the old Coronado Airport, which runs parallel to Interstate 25 south of Tramway Road NE, with office and retail space. Montoya said the tribe wants to “diversify from gaming into other opportunities that come our way.”
“Hopefully, with this act being signed, we’ll get responses from other companies who will hopefully come and do business with us,” he said.
The bill was sponsored by then Rep. Martin Heinrich, now a senator.
“It was not that long ago that tribal leaders complained that BIA stood for ‘Bossing Indians Around,'” Washburn said. “The Sandia HEARTH Act regs signed by the secretary today put the Pueblo firmly in control of an important aspect of their own economic destiny.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal