Pueblo of Jemez and Forest Service sign historic agreement

The Pueblo of Jemez and the Santa Fe National Forest entered into a historic agreement that gives the Jemez nation decision making powers over its aboriginal lands.

A Memorandum of Understanding signed Dec. 20, 2010 by Pueblo of Jemez Governor Joshua Madalena and Acting Forest Supervisor of the Santa Fe National Forest Erin Connelly “brings us one step closer to properly and directly managing the very lands that support our life and livelihood. I have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude (about the signing) because our ancestors sacrificed their lives to protect these lands as the first stewards and conservationists” according to Madalena.

The MOU details the Santa Fe National Forest’s legal commitments and federal trust responsibilities to protect and preserve the pueblo’s ancestral sites, traditional cultural properties, human remains, religious freedoms and sacred objects. The 1.6 million acre Santa Fe National Forest is administered through a Forest Supervisor’s Office and five Ranger Districts. The MOU covers the Jemez Ranger District of some 300,000 acres. The area is teeming with Jemez history, including around 20,000 field houses and tens of thousands of tribal cultural properties, Madalena said.

With the MOU, the Jemez people will indeed have free, prior and informed consent when decisions are made that affect the lands, Madalena said.

The Pueblo of Jemez is one of the 19 pueblos located in New Mexico. Jemez is a federally recognized American Indian tribe with 3,400 tribal citizens, most of whom reside in a puebloan village that is known as “‘Walatowa” (meaning “this is the place”). The Jemez came into contact with European culture in 1541 when Spanish conquistadors invaded, claimed and occupied their lands in the name of the King of Spain.

Jemez mounted a fierce rebellion against Spain, Madalena said, “because we believe truly that our language and our ways are the only ways for us and we didn’t believe in Catholicism.”

In 1891, Congress authorized forest reserves to be established to preserve forest land for timber and other public uses, but without cooperative agreements with Native American tribes in New Mexico, adversely affecting the Pueblo of Jemez culture and religion.

Despite the depredations Jemez people experienced, they have preserved their traditional culture, religion, and knowledge of ancient traditional ways, including their complex Towa language which is spoken by 95 percent of the people, Madalena said. Jemez is the only culture that speaks this language, and traditional law forbids translation of the language into writing in order to prevent exploitation by outside cultures, according to the nation’s website.

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