A Victory for New Mexico's Endangered Mt. Taylor

Posted on: June 9th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

mt-taylor-2

Written by Ti Hays

Last Friday, in a highly anticipated decision, the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee unanimously voted to list Mount Taylor on the State Register of Cultural Properties. The decision ends for now a debate over Mount Taylor’s future that has divided the community of Grants and generated passionate appeals from those both for and against the designation.

When the Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni, the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation first nominated Mount Taylor to the state register in 2008, many people in northern New Mexico worried that the tribes would use the listing to halt development on the mountain. Others feared that the tribes had an even grander scheme in mind: the wholesale transfer of public and private property to tribal ownership.

In reality, none of those concerns had any basis in fact. What moved the tribes to submit the nomination was a legitimate desire to be consulted over activities that could harm or destroy one or more of the (literally) hundreds of thousands of cultural sites on Mount Taylor—a desire shared by all people who attach traditional cultural significance to a place or object.

The Committee's landmark decision is notable for several reasons. First, by virtue of the listing, Mount Taylor becomes one of the largest, if not the largest, properties ever listed in a state or national register. At 344,729 acres, the designation includes not only the summit and slopes of the mountain, but also its principal mesas: San Mateo, Jesus, La Jara, Horace, Chivato and Bibo. Each of these mesas constitutes a "guardian peak" to which each tribe attaches varying degrees of cultural significance.

Second, the Committee specifically addressed the concerns of private property owners, many of whom opposed the nomination, by allowing them to essentially "opt-out" of the designation. The Committee was careful to explain, however, that the decision to exclude private property, which makes up less than one fourth of the area within the boundaries of the designation, in no way affects the overall historic integrity of the mountain.

"The State Register nomination that was approved today clearly establishes this landscape as a Traditional Cultural Property worthy of protection and preservation" said Katherine Slick, State Historic Preservation Officer and director of the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division. "At the same time, the tribes have established in their nomination that private landholdings on the mountain no longer contribute to the elements that give Mount Taylor its cultural significance, and that the private property does not need to be afforded the protections provided by a State Register listing."

Finally, and most importantly, the listing secures to the tribes the right to consult with state agencies over projects on the mountain that require some form of state approval.

Whether the Committee will have the final say on the matter remains to be seen. Opponents of the designation have already signaled their intention to file a lawsuit challenging the decision. Should this happen, Mount Taylor may very well head down the long and uncertain path through the court system recently taken by another sacred mountain in Arizona—the San Francisco Peaks.

But for now, the mountain enjoys the protection of the state register. And the tribes that worked so tirelessly over the past two years to win this decision deserve an immense amount of credit, both for their willingness to disclose and discuss why Mount Taylor is important to them, and for their courage in the face of significant opposition.

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Ti Hays is the Public Lands Counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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4 Responses

  1. Kori Guy

    June 10, 2009

    Thank you so much to all involved in saving this most sacred and blessed place for us, this is one of our guardians, and my heart has been praying long and hard for this…thank you for saving our mountain…I am Navajo/Cherokee mix, and a professor of Native American studies, and am most happy to tell my students of this new developement…some things should always stay sacred, to preserve our ancient sacred ways…Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and that of my Great Grandma who raised me, she would be so happy of this…thank you…Kori Guy, of the To’Aheed Liini Clan, Dine’ people

  2. Doug

    June 21, 2009

    I also would like to offer my Thanks for adding Mt. Taylor to the State Register of Cultural Properties. I’m Navajo living next to Mt. Taylor a sacred site for all Natives. Mt. Taylor is one of the four sacred sites among the Navajo’s. We Natives thank you for all you have done to preserve Mt. Taylor.

  3. Mary

    August 2, 2009

    Thank you-this is a good decision and a good protective designation. It is never too late to learn from past mistakes and this mountain and its surrounding lands deserves protection. This is heartening news – reaching me all the way in Indiana. Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to make it happen!

  4. Tom Buchholz

    August 11, 2009

    I vote to ban all mining and mineral extraction in the USA. We need to go back to the land. It is the devil’s work that we have cars, houses, electricity — even renewable energy needs a lot of minerals, roads, bicycles, computer, TVs, face make up and all of the other capitalist crap that we use.

    BAN all pillaging of mother earth — live natural — live naked — poop in the woods