ugg bomber Bad blood at tribal boundaries
SAN ILDEFONSO PUEBLO Though he wasn’t a member of the tribe, Phillip Roybal never felt like an outsider when he was growing up within the boundaries of this sun soaked reservation north of Santa Fe.
Roybal, who is Hispanic, said he and his Native American neighbors got along great. He recalls having largely unfettered access to the rich tribal lands that surround the home he grew up in and lives in today.
The strife between Roybal and the pueblo is not unique, at least not now. It is, in fact, a microcosm of what appear to be heightened tensions between Native Americans and non Indians in New Mexico, a state that prides itself on its multiculturalism.
Depending on who you talk to, the animosity stems from such thorny issues as water rights, road and utility easements, casino projects and the commemoration of European colonists whose expeditions into the New World included the brutal slaying of Natives.
The bad blood between races of people who for the most part have lived in harmony for centuries comes as the state’s once reticent tribes have grown more powerful and influential in the past two decades. Once brushed aside, New Mexico’s Native Americans are flexing their newfound political, financial and legal muscle more than ever before and it’s rubbing some people the wrong way.
“In 2018, we’re no longer fighting with stones, bows, arrows or fists,” said state Rep. Derrick Lente, who is Native American. “Our fights today in tribal nations in the state and across the nation are fought with our brains, with our hearts and with our tongues. When people start understanding that we can wage those battles the same way that they’re waged against us, that’s the turning point.”
While gaming helped many tribes economically, Jicarilla Apache Nation President Levi Pesata and other tribal leaders said a new emphasis on education also has elevated Native Americans in New Mexico.
“We’re pretty much on the same playing field as other people now, on all levels,” Pesata said. “I think what changed was a lot of the treatment that we were getting from the government and even some of the communities, classifying us as second class citizens, and with the education of young people coming up, that changed tremendously. We are a force to be reckoned with.”
But power sometimes leads to discord.
Perhaps the most recent example of the dissonance is a plan by Tesuque Pueblo to build a casino adjacent to The Santa Fe Opera, which to some represents the pinnacle of white European refinement and culture.
Among supporters of the arts, the famed opera house is considered a hallowed institution.
But a casino is on the horizon literally. 84/285 north of Santa Fe to begin construction of the casino. Once complete, the casino, and later a hotel, will be part of the once unobstructed view from the balcony and terrace of the exclusive and ritzy opera club.
Paul Margetson, chairman of the opera’s fundraising arm, called the pueblo’s plans to build a casino next to the opera “unfortunate.”
“Obviously, they’re entitled to do whatever they want,” Margetson said, referring to the tribe’s sovereign status.
“But I would think they have land elsewhere that they could do that,
” added Margetson, who is the general manager of Hotel Santa Fe, The Hacienda Spa, which is owned by Picuris Pueblo. “This probably could be made residential or part of the pueblo residential community or something else, as opposed to a big, old, loud, noisy [building] and bright lights. The big concern is here we are sitting halfway through an opera, and the car alarms go off. How do you stop that? Beep. Beep.”
Tesuque Pueblo has promised to be “responsible and good neighbors with the opera,” which also has expressed concerns about light pollution from the casino.
Elena Ortiz, a Native American activist and member of the Ohkay Owingeh pueblo north of Espaola, finds it baffling that anyone would even question Tesuque Pueblo’s plans to build what it wants on the tribe’s ancestral lands.
“The Santa Fe Opera had better be grateful that Tesuque has announced that they want to be a good neighbor,” she said. “That land is theirs, and it is sovereign. They can do whatever the hell they want to do with it and more power to them. It’s time we stopped being cowed by the political and social elite in Santa Fe. We are here, have always been, and if they don’t start to respect that, they may find themselves surrounded by neon lights and the sound of slot machines in July and August from 8 to midnight.”
At a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this month attended by some opera officials, Tesuque Pueblo Gov. Frederick Vigil described the casino as an economic development engine intended to invest in tribal youth and preserve pueblo traditions, including its language.
In an interview afterward, Vigil acknowledged that some people don’t like the idea of a casino next to the opera. But he said the pueblo needs to look out for itself.
“Who had the first footprint on this land? It was our people,” he said.
“Did the opera, when it was being built, did they come to our [tribal] council to acknowledge that this was going to happen? No. And then you see the [residential] development on our homelands. Did anybody come to say to Tesuque: ‘We have this initiative in this area?’ No. Only now that we’ve become aggressive leaders are we saying, ‘These are our homelands,’ ” he said.
The tribes’ assertiveness makes some people uneasy, said Lee Moquino, a vocal opponent of Santa Fe’s Entrada, an annual re enactment of Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas retaking the city following the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.
“Most people have this romanticized idea of what it is to be an Indian, what it is to be Native,” said Moquino, 32, a Santa Clara and Zia Pueblo Indian who is a quarter Hispanic. “They’re silent. They’re quiet. They’re one with the earth. They’re peaceful people. But for us, Tewa people have always been known as warriors. That’s in our bloodline.”
Last year, Moquino exhibited warrior like behavior when he faced off against the Rev. Adam Lee Ortega y Ortiz, the rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, while the priest delivered an opening blessing at the Entrada.