Saving the sacred - Albuquerque Journal

Saving the sacred

When a package arrived from Jesse Juen, New Mexico director of the Bureau of Land Management, the students in teacher Rudy Barbosa’s fifth-grade class gathered around as he opened it, eager to see what was tucked inside its folds.

“The box was filled with 25 homemade cookies that Jesse Juen made in his kitchen,” said Styve Homnick, the man who brought the director and the students together a week earlier to create an opportunity for the young Otero Mesa preservation supporters to share their thoughts with the director.

“It came with a very caring card that encouraged them to keep on their path to preserve their ancestral homelands,” Homnick said.

He explained that Barbosa taught one of two fifth-grade classes in the Mescalero Apache School District. Each class had about 25 students.

“Four kids, two boys and two girls, stood up in front of Jesse and stated their cases, then he was presented with a medicine bag with pollen, turquoise and tobacco, and a big poster the kids made,” Homnick said. “Each drew a picture, and in large letters it said ‘Protect Otero Mesa.’ A girl stood up and recited a prayer in Apache and two boys read letters they wrote to President (Barack) Obama.”

Homnick said Juen appeared moved and he shared his feelings of support for them. Bill Childress, the BLM director who oversees Otero Mesa from the Las Cruces field office, also was there and received a medicine bag and poster about protecting Alamo Mountain, a sacred site, Homnick said. The poster was drawn by the girl who recited the Apache prayer. After numerous meetings with BLM officials, Homnick, who heads a grass-roots organization dedicated to protecting the mesa, said he now is convinced the best approach is National Conservation Area status.

“This would preserve a relatively small portion of the mesa that contains a rare eco-region and give it a buffer zone without the commercializing that a national monument would invoke,” Homnick said. “I made it clear to BLM officials that I changed my previous position and would fight along with them for NCA designation. I am convinced this is the most reasonable way the mesa’s unique abundance of wildlife and cultural history will be given the protection it deserves. The bird watchers still will be able to go birding, plus, ranchers with more knowledge of what a national conservation area is in relationship to grazing rights, will be relieved.”

He also said he would focus on working with supporters among the Mescalero Apache to obtain Sacred Site status for Alamo Mountain, Homnick said.

“The heart of my quest is based on my new realizations about the importance of protecting Alamo Mountain from harm’s way,” he said. “That mountain is in a very vulnerable spot and has much more to it than people realize. I came to my conclusions after numerous negative experiences taking non-tribal member groups there for viewing.”

Some of those negative experiences included outsiders wearing hiking boots and digging in their heels on low-lying petroglyphs trying to photograph ones higher, he said.

But some members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have taken a view that protection must be balanced with economic interests. The most recent observations came from U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce during an interview while the Republican was on the August break from Congress.

“We should be drilling it with the agreement that protects the (cultural, wildlife and landscape) resources and still allows us to get to our natural resources,” he said. “We’ve been constant on that since 2002.”

The BLM seven years ago came up with a (resource management) plan that would leave 95 percent of the mesa untouched, the congressman said.

“That’s really reasonable. And of the 5 percent, you only really touch half of that. You’re talking about 2 percent to 3 percent of the footprint of the entire mesa. The idea that they should shut down resource production to preserve every single ounce is just one that I think most Americans think is extreme. We need to drive cars. We need to heat our homes and we need resources. Let’s not be one dimensional, not total business, not total environment, but the two balanced together. Ninety-five to five to me is really a fair split.”

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