Department of the Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Contact: John Wright, 202-208-6416
For Immediate Release: Oct. 22, 2004
Hanson Stuart, 505-660-0164

Secretary Norton Takes Action to Restore
Land Minerals Rights to the Pueblo of Acoma

Action protects sacred sites and resolves tribal land ownership


SKY CITY, PUEBLO OF ACOMA-Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton today announced a land transfer to protect sacred sites and restore tribal ownership of minerals on land owned by the Pueblo of Acoma. Norton presented Pueblo of Acoma Gov. Fred Vallo with two deeds for more than 74,000 acres land.

"These deeds return the mineral rights on more than 74,000 acres of land sacred to the Pueblo of Acoma," Norton said. "The deeds do more than restore sacred ground. This action represents the respect President Bush and I have for tribal sovereignty. The transfer represents our continued commitment to renewing the living legacies of Native Americans in New Mexico and across the country."

The deeds transfer ownership from the NZ Corporation of subsurface mineral estate on 67,761 acres adjacent to and south of Sky City to the United States (Bureau of Indian Affairs) to hold in trust for the Pueblo. The second deed transfers 6,409 acres of federal mineral estate within the reservation to the BIA in trust for the Pueblo.

"In exchange for their subsurface rights, NZ has agreed to accept royalty credits," Norton said. "It is a tribute to the power of partnerships that all of the parties came together to make this transfer happen months ahead of schedule."

In the 1870s, federal land surveyors failed to include a portion of Acoma's historic tribal lands within the Reservation's boundaries. The land was patented to the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad in 1908, but surface rights were restored to the Pueblo in 1936.

The NZ Corporation, of Pleasanton, California, is an 'heir' to the railroad and an enthusiastic supporter of the exchange. The company agreed to exchange its mineral interests for a Certificate of Bidding Credits issued by the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service. NZ Corporation signed the deed transferring the minerals in trust for the Pueblo of Acoma on October 15, 2004.

The Acoma Land and Mineral Consolidation Act (P.L. 107-138), authored by Rep. Joe Skeen and signed by President Bush, Feb. 6, 2002, directs the Interior Secretary to exchange federal land for non-tribal subsurface rights within the boundaries of the Pueblo of Acoma Reservation. The law provides the Secretary with three options to use in acquiring the non-tribal interest: exchange, purchase, or issuance of Certificate of Bidding Rights.

"The land will be a living legacy to the Pueblo people-theirs to live on and learn from," Norton said. "We are committed to helping you make your future even better. President Bush and I believe that many sunny days lay ahead for this restored land, for this sandstone city in the sky."

There were more than 80,000 acres of non-tribal mineral interests within the Pueblo owned by three entities: the NZ Corporation (67,761 acres), the State of New Mexico (12,836 acres), and the United States (not in trust status, 6,409 acres).

Norton noted that with the two transfers completed and one transaction remaining, the Interior Department is on its way to meeting the intent of the Pueblo of Acoma Land and Mineral Consolidation Act by returning mineral interests to Acoma Pueblo that are in within the reservation boundary. For the third transaction, BLM is continuing to pursue an exchange of minerals with the State of New Mexico, where the State will acquire Federal minerals outside the reservation on land where the State presently owns the surface. In exchange the BIA will acquire minerals within the reservation for the Pueblo of Acoma. The transaction will be completed in early 2005.



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