JEMEZ SPRINGS (KRQE) – In an ongoing legal dispute over the Valles Caldera, the Pueblo recently responded to a decision by a federal appeals court. The Pueblo has been fighting to reclaim portions of the Valles Caldera for years, and they say the latest court decision is a “historic win.”

For years, the Pueblo of Jemez has been seeking to claim land in the Valles Caldera as their long-time home. Legally, they have sought to receive a so-called ‘aboriginal title’ to the Valles Caldera, which is currently owned by the federal government (after being purchased from private landowners).

The legal battle over the land has had numerous twists and turns. In an earlier case, a federal court ruled that the Pueblo could still have aboriginal title to the land, despite the federal government granting the land to ranchers and landowners in the 1860s. But it was still up to the Pueblo to prove to the court that they have occupied the land since before European colonization.

In a later trial, the Pueblo was unable to convince the court that the entirety of the Valles Caldera belonged to the Pueblo alone, without being shared with other peoples. Following that court battle, the Pueblo looked to the courts to affirm that they owned four portions of the land: Banco Bonito, the Paramount Shrine Lands, Valle San Antonio, and the Redondo Meadows.

A district court decided that the Pueblo did indeed have title to Banco Bonito between the 1400s and 1650s. But the court decided that the Pueblo lost that title after 1650 by failing to exclude others from using the land. Now, an appeals court has reconsidered that opinion.

In the latest update, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has decided that the Pueblo of Jemez does have an aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. As for other lands in the area, the latest court decision does not grant Jemez Pueblo title to those.

Yet, Pueblo of Jemez Governor Dominic Gachupin still sees this as a win. And Gachupin says the Pueblo will continue the legal fight.

“We have stood united as a Pueblo for centuries in our fight to secure our rights in this sacred land. [Recently] the federal courts confirmed our ownership of a portion of these lands. We will continue our fight to recover our ancestral lands held by the federal government until we succeed. Wavema, Redondo Peak, is just as precious to us as the lands confirmed to us by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Our ancestral lands within the Valles Caldera are the source of the Rio Jemez that delivers precious water resources for sustaining our traditions, People and Community. Wavema is our most sacred place, and it is crucial to the survival of traditional Jemez culture,” Gachupin said in a press release.