Jemez lawsuit is test case for Land Back movement

The Jemez Pueblo considers the nearly 140-square-mile Valles Caldera National Preserve a spiritual sanctuary and part of its traditional homeland. In 2019 lawyers presented oral histories as proof of its claim to the parcel but a federal district judge dismissed them under the so-called "hearsay rule" and an appeal is pending in the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Indigenous history in the caldera goes back at least 11,000 years and obsidian quarried there for projectile points is found throughout the region. The ancestors of the Jemez Pueblo or Walatowa migrated into the area in the late 13th Century after Mesa Verde was laid bare

Native Americans overwhelmingly turned out to vote for Joe Biden now New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland is waiting to be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior with oversight of the National Park Service and land repatriation as part of her wheelhouse. 

Robert Hershey is professor emeritus with the University of Arizona's Indigenous Law and Policy Program.
Hershey said there is a "prejudice" in non-Native society that casts oral histories as less credible than testimony provided by non-Native anthropologists, ethnographers and historians. "You can't divorce these stereotypes from the colonial structures, and by colonial structures I mean, for example, evidentiary rules that prevent the admission of a great amount of oral and traditional history in court," Hershey said.The land in question in the Jemez case was declared "vacant" and sold to a private owner by the federal government in 1860, an event Jemez leaders described as a "a culture shock" in court filings. The federal government re-acquired the land in 2000. The Jemez Pueblo made its first legal claim to aboriginal title in 2012, after plans were announced to transfer management of the land to the National Parks Service. [Law Scholars Argue For Admissibility of Indigenous Oral Histories As Land Claim Evidence]
Photo is from Valles Caldera National Preserve where some scenes from the teevee series Longmire were produced.

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