Mount Taylor sits atop one of the richest known reserves of uranium ore in the country. Current high demand for the ore has resulted in a renewed interest in mining the uranium deposits beneath Mount Taylor on federal, state, and private lands, as well as on other public and private lands in the area. The New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division continues to receive proposals for exploration, mining, and milling operations for Mount Taylor. Much of the area is governed by the 1872 Mining Law, which permits mining regardless of its impact on cultural or natural resources. In addition to threats posed to the mountain itself, uranium mining may contaminate or impair the primary water source for Acoma Sky City, the oldest inhabited community in the United States.
Located in the southwestern corner of New Mexico's San Mateo Mountains, Mount Taylor, with an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet, is a startlingly beautiful, sacred place. Visible from up to 100 miles away, the mountain has been a pilgrimage site for as many as 30 Native American tribes, with special significance for the Acoma people. Mount Taylor is rooted in Acoma's history and traditions, and is closely aligned with the tribe's cultural identity.
- Mitigate the effects of uranium mining.
- Improve U.S. Forest Service management of traditional cultural properties and other large cultural landscapes.
- Support the state designation and protection of Mt. Taylor as a traditional cultural property.
- Acoma Pueblo
- Defenders of New Mexico’s Heritage
Yesterday, in a unanimous decision, the New Mexico Supreme Court decided that Mt. Taylor should remain designated as a Cultural Property under New Mexico state law. The reinstatement of the designation is important because it means that state departments must consult with the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officer before taking an action that could adversely affect the Mt. Taylor Cultural Property. The decision also reaffirms the important role the state plays in identifying and preserving New Mexico’s cultural heritage.
For 17 months, the Justices debated whether the Cultural Properties Review Committee had properly designated about 400,000 acres (including Mt. Taylor) on the basis of its cultural and historic significance to the Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna and Zuni, the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation and other tribes.
The National Trust participated in the litigation and presented oral argument as friend of the court in support of the tribes and the Cultural Properties Review Committee. One of our arguments, which addressed whether a cultural property could be rejected as “too large,” was adopted by the court in their decision. The Justices agreed with us, stating that, “[w]e see no reason . . . why our state authorities are prohibited from listing a property simply because it is too large” and cited examples of other large areas similarly designated, such as Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks.
National Trust President Stephanie Meeks commented on the ruling: “The National Trust is pleased by the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate Mt. Taylor’s cultural property status. We join our partners, the Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna and Zuni, the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation and others in celebrating this major victory in our joint effort to protect this sacred landscape.”
As we savor this victory, we will continue to work with federal, state, local and tribal partners to keep a close eye on uranium mining claims that would impact Mt. Taylor. Please donate today to support our ongoing work at this National Treasure.
Written by Amy Cole, Project Manager
The US Forest Service continues to engage with the National Trust and several other entities, including pueblo and tribal representatives, around plans for the pending La Jara Mesa and Roca Honda uranium mining projects at Mt. Taylor. During meetings held on February 6, the Forest Service updated the participating organizations about various research that is underway to better understand the impact the projects could have on cultural resources, including geomorphology studies investigating the age of landforms near the project to assess whether additional cultural resource sites could be located beneath the surface. The Forest Service also announced that it would supplement the La Jara Mesa Draft Environmental Impact Statement with more materials about cultural resources which is good news for advocates.
Written by Amy Cole, Project Manager
On October 24 in Grants, NM, the US Forest Service held meetings for both the pending La Jara Mesa and Roca Honda uranium projects at Mt. Taylor. During the meeting, the Forest Service updated the participating organizations, including the State Historic Preservation Office, tribal and pueblo representatives, county commissioners, and the National Trust, on the status of the two projects and took feedback about cultural resource concerns stemming from the project proposals.
This continues to be a dyamic process that considers how the Mt. Taylor traditional cultural property will be impacted by uranium mining and we anticipate additional opportunities for input and review of important documents, including archaeological and ethnographic information about Mt. Taylor, in the coming weeks.
Written by Amy Cole, Project Manager
On September 24, National Trust Associate General Counsel William Cook presented the National Trust’s oral arguments before the New Mexico Supreme Court in the pending appeal about the inclusion of the Mount Taylor Traditional Cultural Property on the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties. The courtroom was standing-room only, indicating the very high level of public interest in the oral argument. The justices have now taken the matter under advisement and will issue a decision in upcoming months.
Mac Watson, Santa Fe, NM on June 09, 2012
I remember the first and most contentious hearing we held on the nomination of Mt. Taylor to the New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties. A non-Indian stated angrily: “We took it away from them and now they want it back!” Nearly three years later with the listing of Mt. Taylor headed to the New Mexico Supreme Court, I recall that angry voice — and hope for a just outcome.
Estevan Rael-Ga’lvez, Washington, DC on June 09, 2012
Although known today as Mt. Taylor, named in 1849 for the 12th president, it has many names, each much more meaningful and born of the memory and wisdom of those people who have known it since time immemorial. I remember the first time I stood in its shadow, quietly listening to hundreds of voices rising, each providing testimony to why the sovereignty of this mountain mattered so profoundly. Embedded in this testimony, the people told of origins and consciousness, of beauty and balance, of mining and its effects, and of lessons and legacies. That day, in the voices of individuals and communities whose origins are distinct, they all spoke in a collective, pointing not only to the past, but to a future that required this mountain to continue breathing.
Theresa Pasqual, Acoma, NM on June 09, 2012
I grew up always knowing Mt. Taylor. My home is located in the valley of Mt. Taylor in the village of McCarty’s at Acoma. It was the place of my childhood, the place where we took family picnics, played in the streams, and picked pinon nuts in the fall. It was also a learning place where my father taught me the names of its mesas, the ridges, springs, and its cultural resources — places important to Acoma and our cultural beliefs. It matters to me because of Acoma’s cultural and religious ties to the mountain; without it we as a people would cease to exist. Secondly, the mountain provides natural resources, including water, that our community and others surrounding the mountain need to be sustainable. Finally, and more personally, I have grown up on that mountain. I’ve walked its paths, hiked its canyons, gathered its gifts, prayed there, cried there, rejoiced there. The mountain that awaited me when I returned from living on the East Coast. The mountain begs you to listen. I’ve learned that. It embraces you and says, “Tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine.” I look for it often when I’m on the road, knowing home is not far away. “Beautiful” seems like a word not big enough to describe it.