The Original Environmentalists of Taos, New Mexico

By Lauren Rule

The location of the sacred Blue Lake is known only to the Native Americans

The location of the sacred Blue Lake is known only to the Native Americans

While studying Environmental Communications in Taos, our class traveled to the Taos Pueblo to experience the traditional Buffalo Dance. The Taos Pueblo Native Americans exemplify the true environmentalist. They believe the environment to have a spiritual life to which they are connected. The Battle of Blue Lake demonstrates the spiritual connection between the Native Americans and their land.

The Blue Lake consisted of 50,000 acres of sacred land where they practiced religion and lived for hundreds of years. In 1906, the government placed the sacred Blue Lake watershed in the newly created Carson National Forest. Under this decree, the land no longer belonged to the Native Americans, but to the government. The Blue Lake, as well as its surrounding 50,000 acres, now belonged in the public domain. This angered the Native Americans as they witnessed tourists and recreationalists destroy what they believed sacred. In order for the Taos Pueblo Indians to protect their beliefs in the land, they commenced a legal battle to oust the Forest Service and reclaim dominion over Blue Lake.

With help from the National Council of Churches, the Native Americans launched a nationwide public relations campaign.  Rev. Dean M. Kelley, the NCC’s director of the Commission on Religious Liberties, visited the Taos Indians and finally understood why the area was so sacred to them. Kelley wrote in an article,

 “The members of the tribe feel an ancient identity, not only with Blue Lake–the headwaters of their life-sustaining stream–but with the entire watershed, its plants and animals. Anything which mutilates the valley hurts the tribe. If the trees are cut, the tribe bleeds. If the springs or lakes or streams are polluted, the lifestream of the tribe is infected.”

The Reverend understood the connection between the Native Americans and the land.

As stated by Gordon-McCutchan in The Battle For Blue Lake: A Struggle For Indian Religious Rights, in their fight against the government, they argued that, “Our religion is based upon the unity of man with nature in the Rio Pueblo watershed. Any outside interference with natural conditions of the watershed interferes with our religion.” They wanted the exclusive ownership so that the public could not further harm the land. A key contribution to the recovery of the Lake came from the growing understanding of the idea of ecology. The public began to recognize the relationships between the environment and the Native Americans.

On December 2, 1970, Nixon decided on the Blue Lake Bill and announced the restoration of the Blue Lake lands to the Taos Pueblo Indians. As described by Gordon-McCutchan, once the land had returned, the Native American Spiritual Father stated, “God has given us this land back. The spiritual things that we said about our land are true . . . we are going to use it like we said, the religious way.”

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