Cibola County opposes Mount Taylor cultural listing

By Heather Clark
Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) 5-08

The Cibola County Commission has come out against an emergency listing of Mount Taylor in the State Register of Cultural Properties, a designation requested by five American Indian communities that consider the mountain sacred.

Commissioners voted 4-1 May 1 to oppose the listing in what was described by attendees as a “very heated” and sometimes racially charged meeting attended by hundreds of people. The Cultural Properties Review Committee had approved the designation for Mount Taylor in February.

The commission’s resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, states that commissioners are concerned that Mount Taylor’s listing may restrict the rights of private landowners whose ownership dates back to the 1700s. It also said the county has benefited from multiple uses of the land, which include farming, ranching, logging, mining and other activities.

Katherine Slick, director of the State Historic Preservation Office, said the designation does not affect private property and landowners’ ability to make improvements or sell their property.

County Manager David Ulibarri, who is also a state senator, said the commission decided to look into the issue because county residents felt they did not have a voice in the decision to place Mount Taylor on the state register.

The resolution called on the state attorney general’s office to determine whether the Cultural Properties Review Committee violated the state Open Meetings Act by not properly giving notice of the February meeting at which Mount Taylor was temporarily listed on the register.

Slick said she’s not aware that the office violated the Open Meetings Act. 


“We followed the normal process, which is that we send notice of the meeting to the press boxes at the Capitol building, and that happened,” she said.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said the matter is under review.

The emergency designation will protect Mount Taylor for a year while the Cultural Properties Review Committee investigates whether the area should be permanently listed.

Mount Taylor, near Grants, rises to 11,301 feet and can be seen from many parts of the state. The protected 422,840-acre area includes the summit and mesa tops above 8,000 feet, except on the southwest boundary where the protected area drops to 7,300 feet.

Commissioner Jane Pitts, who supported the resolution, said private landowners are being given different answers about what the designation means.

Pitts said her position is “not anti-Native American. I want to preserve their sacred sites and I want them to have a say, but I want to have a say, too, and that’s all this is about. I believe in freedom and this squashed ours.”

The designation would make it more difficult for companies hoping to explore for uranium in the area to get necessary state exploration permits.

Ulibarri said Cibola County already has passed a resolution supporting uranium mining’s return to the area. The industry could bring in billions of dollars to the state.

“We have that resource. That is economic development for this area,” he said.

But Anna Rondon, a community-based land use planning consultant and an anti-uranium activist, said she and others hope the designation for Mount Taylor will end renewed interest in uranium mining in the area. The price of uranium has increased from $7 per pound in 2003 to a current level of $65 per pound, renewing interest in such mining in New Mexico.

Rondon, who attended the April 29 meeting, described it as “very heated” with racial tension between tribal members and other residents.

“I was there because the mountain’s sacred to me and I’m Navajo,” Rondon said. “This is all about stopping uranium.”

Acoma Pueblo led the effort to place the mountain on the state register. Zuni and Laguna pueblos, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe in Arizona joined Acoma. The tribes have said the mountain has spiritual significance and is considered life sustaining. They ascribe human qualities and personalities to the mountain by conducting prayers and pilgrimages.

Keith Tenorio, Acoma tribal secretary, said the pueblo was not ready Wednesday to make a statement about the commission’s opposition to the designation.

The tribes have one year to persuade the committee to place the mountain on the Register of Cultural Properties permanently. If they fail, the mountain will become ineligible to be listed for five years.

Slick, who attended the commission meeting, said speakers showed their concern for Mount Taylor.

“Almost to a person, those who spoke showed that the community at large values Mount Taylor as a community cultural site,” she said.