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Here We Go Again: Yet another Challenge to the Indian Country Status of Pueblo Grant Lands

Posted by Allison K. Athens | Nov 06, 2023

Partner Donna Connolly recently presented at the 2023 Indian Law Conference offered by the New Mexico State Bar Indian Law Section. The panel's topic was U.S. v. Smith, a criminal case pending in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that challenges federal court jurisdiction over crimes involving Indian victims when those crimes occur on private claim lands within the exterior boundaries of a Pueblo. Ms. Connolly's presentation focused on why all land within Pueblo grant boundaries is Indian country, regardless of title, and as such, the determining factor for federal criminal jurisdiction is whether Congress has diminished Pueblo grant lands. Richard Hughes, Ms. Connolly and Allison Athens, along with outside and in-house counsel for the Pueblos of Santa Clara, Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Laguna and Zia, and the Zuni Tribe, filed an amicus brief with the Tenth Circuit on behalf of the Pueblos, the Tribe, and the All Pueblo Council of Governors in support of the United States. In the brief, the Pueblo amici argued for affirmance of the District Court's determination that Congress had not diminished Santa Clara Pueblo's grant boundaries, subjecting Smith, a non-Indian, to federal jurisdiction in the death of a Santa Clara Pueblo member. New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torres also filed an amicus brief supporting affirmance of the district court. Lindsay Cutler, in-house counsel for the Pueblo of Isleta, presented the Pueblo amici's argument that Congress had not diminished Pueblo Indian country, and Ellen Venagas, Assistant Attorney General with the NMAG, presented the NMAG's arguments in support of affirmance.

A copy of the Pueblo amici's brief is posted here.

About the Author

Allison K. Athens

Attorney - Santa Fe Office