We often envision sweeping vistas, wild and untouched landscapes and rich biological diversity when we think of our public lands. But too often we forget the people who have cared for and protected the earth through the centuries.
Whether it’s the lands of Bears Ears, the Greater Chaco region, or places like Mount Taylor, Indigenous peoples have left their mark in these places for generations. This is why we must safeguard the precious environmental and cultural landscapes that we inherit today.
The State of New Mexico has the opportunity to protect one of these landscapes during this year’s legislative session, the L Bar property.
Our people, the people of Kawaik’a or Laguna Pueblo, have inhabited this place since time immemorial. It is here that our ancestors built communities, raised children and created a culture that has endured to this day. Laguna is located at the base of Mount Taylor in western New Mexico.
The mountain is home to countless ancient villages, cultural assets and sacred sites that testify to our relationship to the land. And now our pueblo is working to conserve those lands by petitioning the State of New Mexico to incorporate the L Bar into the Marquez Wildlife Management Area.
The area known as L Bar is part of the ancestral territory of our pueblo. The 52,870-acre property that straddles large portions of Mount Taylor is of cultural significance to the Pueblo Nations and the Navajo Nation. With over 1,000 cultural sites within the Mount Taylor Designated Traditional Cultural Property, this area is at the heart of the ancestral territory of the pueblos.
As heirs to this ancient heritage, our tribal nations are keenly aware of the need to protect this sacred landscape. That is why the Laguna, Acoma, Zuni, and Hopi pueblos call on the state to protect and conserve these lands and manage them for future generations.
The L Bar is also home to elk, deer, antelope, turkeys and a variety of raptors. The remote and wild nature of this location is why it was historically considered one of the best hunting grounds and why today it still offers opportunities for responsible hunters. Part of the Marquez Wildlife Management Area, this land will provide state residents with opportunities for multiple species of game. And it will restore access and connection to a land lost from our collective memory through decades of private land ownership.
Places like the L Bar connect us to our ancestral past and our shared human history. They give us the opportunity to touch lands that nurtured generations of New Mexicans before us and to teach our children about our long history in this place.
It is my great hope that we can center the unique culture and history of Indigenous peoples in more land protection efforts and that we will work together to protect places like the L Bar. This, after all, is our heritage, and it is one worth protecting.
Martin Kowemy Jr. is the governor of Laguna Pueblo.