New streamlined regulations for leasing Indian trust land might not affect a proposal for commercial development on the Santa Fe Indian School campus, but U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich’s elevation to the U.S. Senate could.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar this week announced regulations “that will streamline the leasing approval process on Indian land, spurring homeownership, and expediting business and commercial development.”
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said the new rules apply only to lands held in trust for one tribe, which means they won’t have an impact on development plans at the Cerrillos Road campus.
Congress in 2000 turned over the Santa Fe Indian School to the All Indian Pueblo Council to be held in trust for New Mexico’s 19 pueblos.
In 2008, after the school opened $31 million worth of new classrooms, dormitories and other buildings, it demolished 15 older school buildings, some of them dating back to the school’s founding in 1890.
The school followed up in 2009 by cutting dozens of trees, some of them a half-century old, leaving the part of the campus fronting Cerrillos Road a barren field of stumps.
School officials maintain they are not subject to city, county and state jurisdiction because they hold sovereignty over the 115 acres within the Santa Fe city limits.
They have declined to publicly discuss plans for the vacant property, although two sets of plans for hotels and retail shops there have surfaced.
All Indian Pueblo Council officials, who did not respond to messages asking about their plans, reportedly have discussed leasing the property for commercial development and creating a cultural center to host activities year-round.
Congress banned “gaming” on the campus, preventing casinos, but said the property could be used for “educational, health or cultural purposes.”
That is slightly different from the old Albuquerque Indian School campus, which was turned over to the All Indian Pueblo Council with a mandate for “educational, health, cultural, business or economic development.” The broader language has allowed the Albuquerque campus to be used for several government buildings and a Holiday Inn Express.
Last summer, at the request of Santa Fe Indian School officials, U.S. Reps. Luján and Heinrich, an Albuquerque Democrat, co-sponsored an amendment to the Omnibus Indian Advancement Act that would have added “economic development” to the possible uses of the Santa Fe Indian School.
The measure passed the U.S. House of Representatives but died in the Senate, where it was opposed by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who said he saw no reason to expand the uses of the campus to allow commercial development.
Bingaman’s retirement at the end of the year and Heinrich’s recent election to replace him in the Senate seems to clear the way for the language to be added again. A spokesman for Heinrich said Thursday that, as a senator, “he urges school officials and other stakeholders to work with the local community on a plan that strengthens the Santa Fe Indian School and its mission of providing students with an exceptional education.”
Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., called for community dialogue on the issue, and his spokesman said Thursday that he still “wants to see more people pulled together on this.”
“There are a variety of interests on the issue, concerning the commercial sector and the taxation issue and the kind of development that could take place there in terms of the historic styles and stuff, so he would like to see more interaction between the Indian School and the community on this,” she said.
Luján’s spokesman said he remains committed to allowing the pueblos to undertake economic development on the campus so the school can be self-sufficient. “In this time of financial uncertainty and the limitations of the federal government to assist in federal education programs, it is important to give Santa Fe Indian School the tools they need to help their students receive a quality education regardless of the political and financial climate in Washington,” Luján said in a statement.
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or email@example.com.