FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2002
TDD (202) 514-1888
UNITED STATES REACHES TENTATIVE FRAMEWORK
TO RESOLVE NATIVE AMERICAN CLAIM
WASHINGTON, D.C.– A longstanding Native American claim by the Pueblo of San Ildefonso in northern New Mexico may be near resolution under a settlement framework announced today by the United States Department of Justice. For over 50 years, the Pueblo of San Ildefonso has pursued legal claims against the United States government arising under the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946. That law allowed Native American tribes and pueblos to be compensated for lost lands and for damages resulting from government actions. In the last 50 years, over 600 such claims were filed by Native American tribes and pueblos. The claim of the Pueblo of San Ildefonso is the last unresolved case under the 1946 Act.
After two years of negotiations among representatives of the Pueblo and the United States Departments of Justice, Agriculture and Interior, a tentative framework for settlement has been agreed upon. With this announcement of the settlement framework, representatives of the federal government and the Pueblo will continue to meet with local government officials and affected parties to explain the proposed settlement and discuss related issues. A final settlement will require approval by Congress and the Court of Federal Claims in Washington.
The framework includes five key elements:
•The United States will pay the Pueblo $6.9 million to compensate for aboriginal title claims, as well as trespass and other matters;
•The National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will take administrative actions to enhance consultations between federal agencies and the Pueblo regarding management of lands near the San Ildefonso Indian Reservation, including the Tsankaw'i Unit of Bandelier National Monument and the Shu-ma Land Area administered by BLM;
•The Pueblo will be permitted to purchase at fair market value approximately 7700 acres of the Santa Fe National Forest lying adjacent to the San Ildefonso Indian Reservation;
•Valid existing rights in the purchase area will be protected; and
•Receipts from the purchase will be used by the Forest Service to acquire high priority lands in New Mexico for National Forest purposes.
"In an effort to bring these complicated claims to a fair and just resolution in recent years, the United States, through the Justice Department, has explored every effort to reach negotiated resolutions with the tribes," said Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are pleased that the agreement framework with the Pueblo of San Ildefonso is a substantial step forward in closing this longstanding claim in a fair and equitable manner for the Pueblo. We believe that this agreement will facilitate the management of adjacent federal lands and ultimately, benefit the public."
The proposed purchase of National Forest lands by the Pueblo is the principal matter requiring Congressional approval. The sale of lands to the Pueblo would be for appraised fair market value and the Forest Service would use the proceeds from the sale to buy non-federal inholdings within the National Forests in New Mexico. Existing private rights within the sale area will be protected under the proposed settlement.
"The Forest Service is pleased to play an important role in helping to resolve this longstanding claim," stated Harv Forsgren, Regional Forester for the Southwest Region. "The proposed settlement would allow the Pueblo to buy land of historical and cultural importance to it; while, at the same time, enabling the Forest Service to consolidate federal ownership elsewhere within the National Forests for environmental enhancement and public recreation."
Grant Vaughn, Acting Regional Solicitor of the United States Department of the Interior, expressed similar sentiments. "We are pleased that all of the involved federal agencies and the Pueblo have been able to make this progress toward resolving disputes tracing to actions occurring many years ago. Doing so not only removes ambiguities in land titles but also creates the foundation for further good relationships among the governments involved."
After further deliberations with local governments regarding implementation of the framework, it is expected that proposed legislation will be given to Congress for action early next year.