KRWG

Legislation to Strengthen Land Grant Communities’ Rights

Oct 13, 2021

 Commentary: U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), and U.S. Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) and Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) introduced the Land Grant-Mercedes Traditional Use Recognition and Consultation Act to recognize community land grants as an important part of the culture and history of the State of New Mexico. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives during the 116th Congress, Senator Luján unanimously passed similar legislation through the House to make it easier for land grant mercedes to work with federal land management agencies.

This legislation provides for greater consultation between the Federal Government and governing bodies, and requires the consideration of Historical Traditional Uses in federal land management planning. Additionally, this bill requires the federal government to provide guidance on any permit requirements for qualified land grant-mercedes and traditional uses, including for routine maintenance, minor improvements, and major improvements.

"New Mexico’s Land Grant communities trace their deep-rooted history in New Mexico back for generations. The federal government has a responsibility to recognize the unique status of Land Grant communities, but too often has failed to do so,” said Heinrich. “That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Land Grant-Mercedes Traditional Use Recognition and Consultation Act with Senator Luján to affirm the importance of Land Grant communities, and their stewardship. With this legislation, we can improve communication and coordination with federal agencies, and recognition and access for Land Grant communities.”

“New Mexico’s land grant communities are an important part of the fabric of our state’s history. For generations, these unique communities have acted in our national interest by providing excellent stewardship and maintenance to our lands. But these land grant communities are burdened by a lack of recognition from federal agencies – leaving these communities with no adequate communication or input on federal land management plans,” said Luján. “I’m proud to introduce legislation that will eliminate the disconnect that federal agencies have with traditional communities and requires the federal government to actively consider Historical Traditional Uses in federal land management planning.”

"Land grants nestle at the heart of our shared history. Community land grants recognized the importance of shared common land for life sustaining resources, and a shared place for worship, celebration and mourning," said Leger Fernández. "I've attended meetings on the watershed. I’ve stood with our land grant communities and heard their concerns that significant areas of former land grants are now within jurisdiction of the federal government. The Land Grant-Mercedes Traditional Use Recognition and Consultation Act will foster more cooperation between the Federal Government and Land Grant communities. I thank Senator Luján for his work on this over the years and look forward to working alongside our communities and the New Mexico delegation to pass this important legislation into law.”

“New Mexico’s land grant communities have cared for the lands and waters of New Mexico and carried these cultural traditions forward generations. It is vital that the federal government provide long-overdue recognition and support for our land grant communities,” said Stansbury. “I am proud to cosponsor the Land Grant-Mercedes Traditional Use Recognition and Consultation Act with Congresswoman Leger Fernández and Senators Luján and Heinrich, and am proud to stand with and support our land grant communities, which represent a deep connection to the land, family, and the history of New Mexico.”

“The introduction of S. 2708 by Senator Ben Ray Luján and H.R. 5493 by Representative Teresa Leger Fernández is a positive step forward in addressing longstanding issues affecting New Mexico communities, which stem from the adjudication process required by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,” said New Mexico Land Grant Council Chair Juan Sánchez. “For more than a century Spanish and Mexican land grant communities in the Southwest have struggled to ensure recognition, protection and access to natural resources located on their former common lands now managed by the federal government. These natural resources play a vital role in maintaining traditional use practices that sustain the socio-economic and cultural integrity of many New Mexico communities.  We thank Senators Luján and Heinrich and Representatives Leger Fernández and Stansbury for their leadership in introducing S. 2708 and H.R. 5493 and look forward to continuing to work with their offices to win its passage and signing into law.” 

“Since its creation in 2006, the New Mexico Land Grant Consejo has worked closely with land grants and New Mexico’s Congressional delegation to address the injustices perpetrated on our communities.  For more than a century Spanish and Mexican land grant communities in the Southwest have struggled to ensure recognition, protection and access to natural resources located on their former common lands now managed by the federal government. These resources are critical to maintaining the livelihood of our communities. The introduction of the traditional use recognition and consultation legislation by Senators Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury is a momentous occasion and we thank Senator Luján and Representative Leger Fernández for introducing S. 2708 and H.R. 5493,” said New Mexico Land Grant-Merced Consejo President Andrea Padilla.

“Our land grant welcomes the introduction of S. 2708 and H.R. 5493.  The communities of the San Joaquín del Río de Chama Land Grant have continued to be stewards of what are now BLM and U.S. Forest Service managed lands.  These are the common lands of our land grant and were first denied and later stolen from us, but our cultural connection to our historic lands and need to maintain our traditional uses has never ceased.  Thank you, Senators Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury, for recognizing past injustices and advocating for the fair treatment of our communities,” said San Joaquín del Río de Chama Land Grant President Leonard Martínez

Full text of the legislation is available HERE.