U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján
From the Office of U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico’s Third District introduced two amendments yesterday to the Department of Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act aimed at addressing road easement issues that are impacting tribal and non-tribal communities in northern New Mexico.
After securing a commitment from Rep. Ken Calvert, Chairman of the appropriations subcommittee, and Ranking Member Betty McCollum to work with him on addressing these issues, Luján withdrew his amendments. Below is the transcript of his remarks and exchange with the members on the House floor.
Rep. Luján discusses his amendment<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmMqi4kOsD4&feature=youtu.be> to address egress and ingress of easements where they do not exist for landowners on land parcels adjudicated under the Pueblo Lands Act of 1924.
Rep. Luján: Thank you Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Chairman if you are able to commit to work with me on this, Chairman Calvert and Ranking Member McCollum, I do plan to withdraw this amendment, and I appreciate the time to be able to share a few words with everybody about why this amendment is so important. I want to say a few words about my amendment and the challenges facing people in my district in New Mexico.
My amendment requires the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to report, identify, and adjudicate to landowners egress and ingress of easements where they do not exist for landowners on land parcels adjudicated under the Pueblo Lands Act of 1924. While this sounds like a complex issue, Mr. Speaker, it’s a very simple issue, and one that was created back in 1924 with the Pueblo Lands Act.
This amendment, Mr. Chairman, is the result of an issue that is specific to the state of New Mexico and the 1924 Pueblo Lands Act. In 1924, the Congress passed the Pueblo Lands Act, which established the Pueblo Lands Board. This board was tasked with adjudicating land claims to Pueblo lands and it took about six years, until 1930, for the board to adjudicate these claims between the Pueblos and non-tribal landowners.
For the last 80 years, families have been able to buy homes and build homes, pass land on from one generation to the next. Everything had been going well until recently when the Bureau of Indian Affairs alleged trespass on some county roads – the County of Santa Fe, which is a local government in the State of New Mexico – that provide ingress and egress to the non-tribal residents.
Now, these residents have been given patents by the United States of America – that’s what the Pueblo Lands Act did – giving the clearest title to land ownership in the United States of America. But as a result of the BIA letter, the title insurance companies in the State of New Mexico began to refuse issuing title insurance
Now as we all know, that complicates your ability to buy a home, sell a home, or even refinance a home so that way you can reroof a home. In some instances some of the families were trying to refinance that home because of bills that they’ve incurred for health care purposes, but because they’re not able to get title to their home, they’re not able to do so.
Mr. Chairman, these are families who have their entire savings in their homes like many of us across America. These are families who have been saving up to build a home in a community they grew up, where their parents grew up, where their grandparents grew up and now they are fortunate to have a piece of land there.
I want to share with you a paragraph from a constituent by the name of Jeff Archuleta that he sent to me. He writes:
“When I grew up and my wife and I started a family of our own, it was easy for me to decide where I wanted to raise our boys. I was fortunate enough to obtain an acre of land from my father. I don’t know exactly how long this parcel of land has been in my family, but I can say that it is listed [as one of the ‘Exceptions’ listed] in the San Ildefonso report of 1929 addressing land titles between the pueblo and non-pueblo residents. This document references land that was in non-pueblo private landowner’s possession prior to the Pueblo Lands Act of 1924. Reference is also made to a Spanish Grant approved by Congress December 22, 1858. At the time of this report, the land belonged to Demetrio and Catalina Roybal. They later deeded the land to one of their children, my great uncle Pedro Roybal, who went on to sell it to my father.”
Mr. Chairman, I worry that we need to address this issue, but that this dispute is tearing at the fabric of our communities. For more than two years now, I have tried to get anyone from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to provide assistance to me to provide a way to get this solved. I’ve asked the BIA [for the] process and any criteria they used to issue an allege trespass and to share their antiquated database with the public.
I’ve asked for maps and historical documents that the BIA considered. Nothing was produced. I asked for the chain-of-command that was followed by the BIA and the interpretation and understanding of the Pueblo Lands Act of 1924 and the actions of the Pueblo Lands Board. Nothing was produced.
I’ve even asked the BIA for information related to mediation services, Mr. Chairman, because the fabric of these communities is being torn apart. That is why I felt compelled to offer an amendment, and with that Mr. Chairman, I would yield to the Chairman and then to the Ranking Member. Chairman Calvert.
Chairman Calvert: I thank the gentleman for yielding and I am happy to work with the gentleman and Ms. McCollum in a nonpartisan way to address the concerns of your constituents, and with that I yield back.
Rep. Luján: And Mr. Chairman if I have any time left I would yield to the Ranking Member, as well, who’s just also encouraged us to find a way to work together. And Mr. Chairman, I just want to say thank you to you and your staff for being accommodating so we can sit down and look at this very important issue that is specific to the State of New Mexico. And I would yield to the Ranking Member.
Ranking Member McCollum: I look forward to working with the gentleman and with the Chairman on this issue. I yield back.
Rep. Luján: And with that Mr. Chairman, I thank everyone. I thank all the staffs, and I yield back the balance of my time and I would respectfully ask to withdraw my amendment.
Rep. Luján discusses his amendment<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RlvUxQlhkg&feature=youtu.be> to provide funds to the BIA to update and digitize its rights-of-way records and make them publicly available in a commonly used mapping format.
Rep. Luján: Mr. Chairman, this is an amendment that is related to the previous amendment I offered. It was something that I uncovered as I was learning more and more about how to solve these egress/ingress issues pursuant to the 1924 Pueblo Lands Act. And Chairman Calvert, again, with your commitment and that of Ranking Member McCollum, if you’re able to work with me on this issue I plan to withdraw this amendment.
This amendment sought to reprogram $1 million in the Bureau of Indian Affairs funding to require the Bureau of Indian Affairs to update and digitize its inventory of rights-of-way records and to make them publicly available in a commonly used mapping format. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has long failed to adequately maintain rights-of-way records and the Bureau is often unable to provide requested documentation to tribes and other stakeholders in a timely manner.
For example, when my office asked for information related to rights-of-ways in New Mexico, the Bureau of Indian Affairs could not share it with my office in a timely fashion. And just today, Mr. Chairman, the Pueblo of Zia, a pueblo in the State of New Mexico, provided me documentation that the Pueblo of Zia had asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a request of specific right-of-way information this past February – February 24, 2016 to be exact. It’s now July. The Pueblo of Zia tells me none of this information has been provided to the pueblo.
My argument is this, Mr. Chairman. If this information was made available to the public in a way that the Bureau of Indian Affairs as I understand it should already be making available, this information should be readily available. This is simply unacceptable that the information is not being provided, and especially with the trust responsibilities the Bureau of Indian Affairs has with tribes as well.
Thankfully, I believe there’s a commonsense solution. In February 2014, the Tribal Transportation Unity Caucus, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Intertribal Transportation Association jointly developed recommendations for a Highway Reauthorization, including one to improve the Bureau of Indian Affairs rights-of-way management. They suggested requiring the BIA to update and computerize rights-of-way documentation and make them available in a commonly used mapping format. The National Congress of American Indians then passed a resolution endorsing these recommendations in April 2014. Unfortunately, this commonsense provision didn’t make it into the highway bill, which is why I’m offering the amendment today.
Too often, the BIA’s mismanagement of these records disrupts and slows down projects that are important to tribes and surrounding communities, while creating unnecessary conflict. Mr. Chairman, if we can map the human genome then surely the BIA can map a few roads, manage its rights-of-way records and build an accessible, public database to provide certainty to tribes, local governments and state governments, and other stakeholders.
And with that Mr. Chairman, I would yield to Chairman Calvert.
Chairman Calvert: Again, I am happy to work with the gentleman and Ms. McCollum in a nonpartisan way to address these issues and look forward to working with you to resolve this for your constituents. I yield back.
Rep. Luján: Chairman Calvert, thanks again for your leadership, and again for your staff again. We appreciate the time to work together. And again Ranking Member McCollum, to you and the minority staff, thank you for all that you’re doing. And with that Mr. Chairman, I would ask unanimous consent to withdraw my amendment and I would yield back the balance of my time.