PUEBLO OF SANTA ANA, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico pueblo that has become the latest U.S. tribe to buy back a swath of Native American ancestral land intends to keep the high desert tract in its natural state and petition the federal government to officially place it under the pueblo's jurisdiction, tribal leaders said Friday.
The Pueblo of Santa Ana's purchase of the Alamo Ranch near the edge of the Albuquerque metro area was announced this week, with the ranch's longtime owners — the family of former New Mexico Gov. Bruce King — saying they were confident the tribe would be good stewards of the area that was in their family for generations.
The ranch went on the market in February for $33 million. Neither party has disclosed the final sale amount.
"In traditional Santa Ana culture, land, water, life, traditions, family and cultural identity are the foundation of what makes us go," said Santa Ana Pueblo Gov. Myron Armijo. "We will — and I put this in bold — we will keep this land in its natural state."
The purchase comes as more tribes buy land with cultural or historical significance for Native Americans, and the U.S. government places hundreds of thousands of acres of those lands into trust for the tribes.
With the purchase complete, Santa Ana Pueblo plans to next make a case to federal officials to begin the often yearslong, multi-step process of taking its reacquired swath of land into trust.
If successful, the move would ensure the land would always remain under tribal ownership because only a congressional vote can allow for land held in trust for a tribe by the U.S. government to be taken or sold.
In the past seven years, more than 415,000 acres have been taken into trust for tribes under the Obama administration. Top Interior Department officials say they aim to raise that figure to 500,000 acres, or 781 square miles, before the end of the president's term in January.
"This effort is part of President Obama's commitment to work with tribal leaders to restore tribal homelands," Larry Roberts, an acting assistant secretary for the Interior Department who oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said in a statement Thursday.
Armijo said he has not yet met with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to discuss a land-into-trust application.
His ancestors migrated across the 100-square-mile expanse of land situated at the borders of two other nearby pueblos' reservations and 10 miles west of Armijo's reservation.
The ranch is nearly equal in size to the Santa Ana Pueblo's present-day reservation, which is home to a village dating back centuries and several tribal enterprises, including a luxury resort and a casino along one of the state's busiest highways.
There are no plans for any economic development on what has long been considered one of New Mexico's legacy ranches, Armijo said. Instead, the pueblo plans to maintain the tract's vast open spaces, use parts of it for ceremonies, and develop a wildlife management plan.
"We hold close ties to this area," said Glenn Tenorio, a war chief for the pueblo who also works in its water resources department. "We are going to hold and keep the land as pristine as it is."