Last December, 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 by Pueblo of Jemez Governor Joshua Madalena and Acting Forest Supervisor of the Santa Fe National Forest Erin Connelly implements an important indigenous right detailed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s Article 32:
“Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.
“States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.
The government-to-government relationship formalized in the MOU improves the good working relationship the parties have enjoyed for more than a decade, Madalena said.
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 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 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.
The conquest was based on the Doctrine of Discovery developed a century earlier in papal bulls that gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” if those lands were not already occupied by Christians. If the “pagan” or “savage” inhabitants of the lands would convert to Christianity, they could survive; otherwise they could be killed or enslaved.