Just a fun fact regarding the Pueblo tribe that originally resided in the U.S. Southwest. This tidbit of information is specific to the Pueblos domiciled in New Mexico. The “… lands were acquired under fee under Spanish rule…”. Once the territory of New Mexico was annexed by the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) in the aftermath of the Mexican War (p.272). This transferred right to the lands to the tribe versus the United States government holding the legal title.
Unfortunately, the technical aspects of the land own by New Mexican Pueblos are now minimal. As the tribe is presently in a trust relationship with the U.S. Government. See United States V. Sandoval (1913) (p.273). The tribe cannot “alienate their lands without the consent of the United States per United States V. Candelaria (1926) (p.273). Water rights for Pueblo lands are as applied by Winters Rights and are not different ( New Mexico V. Aamodt) from those of any other tribe (p.273).
I may not be a trained lawyer. However, I am a Classic Liberal. That means I hold individual rights and property ownership in high regard. After all, I am following in the tradition of John Locke, and so on. If we strip away all the social justice rhetoric surrounding the government’s treatment of the tribes, there are a lot of violations of natural property rights. This opinion may not be based on past case precedence, but rather on unified philosophical principles. By the Treaty of Guadalupe, the tribe has legally transferred the right to their lands. While subsequent legislation may subordinate the strength of this previous agreement, did the tribe ever consent to the trust relationship with the United State’s government? From a purely a priori combined with some of the rhetoric surrounding past and present tribal/U.S. relations it would be fair to surmise no.
The legitimacy of the present guardianship dynamic between the New Mexican Pueblo tribe and the United States is suspect at best. Effectively, this arrangement transfers Pueblo lands to the federal government for relocation to the tribe. Many who are not as privy to the philosophical implication of property rights may find this alteration to landownership to be inconsequential or even a mere technicality. Taking such a superficial stance on this issue undermines property rights. Rightfully attained property should not be transferred to another party including the government without consent. This issue somewhat mirrors the overextension of civil asset forfeiture in cases of narcotic sales or instances of eminent domain. There may be laws on the books that provided legal justification for such actions. However, it is morally or philosophically justifiable? Could these laws be legitimate due to the fact they are unjust? Depending on your disposition towards property rights the answer can be a resounding no. Through this tacit acceptance of law equating moral correctness, we accept many unjust laws as being legitimate. This in turn transforms the Bureau of Indian Affairs into an institution that is more of an imposition than a facilitator of tribal rights. Inverting property rights, thereby shifting it from a negative right to a positive right. The BIA had the potential to operate in a manner that served to legitimately uphold tribal property rights. Like more bureaucratic departments within the government, it managed to make a bad situation worse. Instead of taking on the role of a property rights arbitrator between Indians and non-Indians, it became a property rights dispensary. Creating a perverse dynamic in which there is an inference that the Pueblos no longer own the land. When it was historically transferred to them by treaty. If this is true then the government has no business managing the land at all. Unless their property rights are being infringed upon. For example, non-Indians encroaching upon their water rights. There is a profound categorical confusion in attempting to protect property rights by first violating them. Making it appear as if it more of the pretext for circumventing Native property rights than defending them.