Council tables resolution supporting Indian tribe
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
At its Monday, March 21 regular meeting, the Las Cruces City Council voted 6-1 to indefinitely table a resolution that would have supported a petition requesting federal recognition of the Piro/ Manso/Tiwa Indian tribe of the Pueblo of San Juan de Guadalupe.
Council members, with the exception of Mayor Pro-Tem Greg Smith, who voted against tabling the resolution, said they were concerned about supporting the tribe’s efforts to gain national recognition because of the negative impact it could have on other groups, including the unincorporated village of Tortugas in southern Doña Ana County and Los Indigenes de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, a nonprofit corporation formed in April 1914.
‘A very real concern’
Piro/Manso/Tiwa Tribe Cacique (spiritual leader) Ed Roybal told the council the tribe first petitioned the United States Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) seeking federal recognition in 1971. That recognition could provide a number of benefits to the tribe, including helping to “continue our traditional way of life,” he said. The tribe does not own any “land per say,” but has sacred sites in the county, Roybal said.
Los Indigenes de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe President Arianna Fierro said the corporation is against the BIA giving recognition to the Piro/Manso/Tiwa tribe because it could “disenfranchise the corporation” and “displace the community of Tortugas.” With federal recognition, she said, it would be “relatively easy” for the tribe to “make claim” on the property of Tortugas residents and historic artifacts. “This is a very real concern for us,” Fierro said.
Fierro said the corporation’s opposition to federal recognition of the tribe hasn’t changed since the early 1970s.
“I find this a very difficult question,” Councillor Olga Pedroza said. “There is a lot of disagreement. I feel very uncomfortable being asked to recommend one group over another.”
‘They deserve this recognition’
Smith, who introduced the resolution supporting federal recognition for the tribe, said the council was “not being asked to support one group and deny another.” The Piro/ Manso/Tiwa Tribe has a petition before the BIA, while other groups do not, he said. Recognizing one tribe would not deny potential recognition to any other tribe, he said, noting the government recognizes many different Apache tribes in New Mexico.
“Somehow, we’ve turned into Solomon and have to decide who the baby goes to,” Smith said, referring to the story from the Bible about King Solomon being asked to choose between two women who claimed to be the mother of the same baby. In this case, however, there is “not just one baby,” he said.
Mayor Ken Miyagishima and the council have “nodded our heads” in support of the tribal petition in the past, Smith said, and Miyagishima has written letters supporting it. “We’re supporting a group that has the wherewithal, the evidence that they deserve this recognition,” Smith said.
Smith said the council needed to express its support for the federal petition immediately, as the public comment period on the petition was coming to a close before the end of March.
Strife, legal battles
“We don’t want to have anything to do with splitting up Tortugas,” Miyagishima said.
Councillor Ceil Levatino said Fierro expressed “enough legitimate concerns” that “this is not something we should be voicing our opinions on.”
Strife and legal battles between the tribe and the corporation have been “going on for generations,” Councillor Kasandra Gandara said. She said the council should table the resolution until it has more information on the issue.
Councillor Jack Eakman advised the groups to work together for “a higher purpose than just preventing someone else from getting something.” There must be “something more important than a 50-year-old battle” between the tribe and the corporation, he said.
“We need a lot more information to make a good decision on this resolution,” said Councillor Gill Sorg.
It “would be wise to table” the resolution, Las Cruces historian and author Pat Beckett told the council.
“There are a lot of very passionate folks concerned about this moving forward,” said District 33 State Representative Bill McCamley, D-Doña Ana, whose district includes Tortugas. McCamley said the council is “moving very fast” on the issue and “we could all do with some more time” to consider the consequences “before we move forward.”
The council’s next meeting will be a work session beginning at 1 p.m. on Monday, March 28 in council chambers at city hall, 700 N. Main St. Topics are expected to include a report on the 2016 session of the New Mexico Legislature, a Veterans Theatre Spice presentation, an update from the city Art Board and a report on a revised utility rate setting process.
For more information, visit http:// las- cruces. granicus. com/GeneratedAgenda-Vi e w e r. p h p ? v i e w_ id=2& event_id=201.