Native Writes: Power in unity

I attended a meeting this week which awakened my belief that people united hold immense power.

Back in 1981, I covered a meeting in which already aging Apolinar Rael explained the reason he and a group of neighbors were filing suit against Jack T. Taylor to regain land use rights guaranteed when the lands were granted as individual “varas” by Mexico to families willing to settle in what is now Costilla County.

Taylor had acquired the vast “Mountain Tract” by any means possible, generally ignoring the rights his neighbors had taken for granted to use the area for sustenance of life.

He had fenced the area, called it the Taylor Ranch and hired brutal guards to keep his neighbors off, up to restraining and horse whipping some men who had ventured onto the lands in search of a stray cow.

The suit, Rael v. Taylor, went through the courts and was denied by a narrow margin of high court justices, offering hope that the matter could be revived.

It was, with a great deal of support. Taylor sold the ranch to an Enron executive, Lou Pai, who eventually sold it to a group of Texas investors, who named it Cielo Vista. Pai continued the Taylor battle, but did not win favor of the courts and the rights of grant heirs were recognized.

The Land Rights Council was established 40 years ago, and its members have risen to every battle cry. More than 1,000 persons have rights to gather firewood, cut timber for personal use and graze livestock.

Sustenance rights were guaranteed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo when the land that had been under Mexican rule was ceded to the United States and affirmed by a document written by land grantor Carlos Beaubein and certified by Gov. Gilpin, who took control of the territory after his death.

That document was given credence in 2003 in the high court when persons seeking to use the grant lands won the long-standing suit.

On Monday, many of them gathered to discuss new problems with a new owner who offered to buy their rights at what an attorney called a “ridiculously small sum.”

The attitude wasn’t no, but “He- - no!”

Members of the Land Rights Council met with the new owner, a 30-year-old heir to an oil fortune and sent a letter to his attorney outlining some conditions of their own. The only beneficiary here is the lawyer, while the battle over land rights has been fought over the decades by a group of expert attorneys working pro bono – for free, for the good of the people.

There will be gates on the fences Taylor erected and the rights-holders will still have keys. Lands can be sold, but the rights won’t go with them.

Looking around the room during the meeting, I saw many familiar faces, some which had been at the 1981 meeting; some are descendants of Apolinar Rael and others descended from grantees whose names are not mentioned except in the legal paperwork.

They are expected to exceed 3,000 when all the research into land rights is complete.

Today, looking around at the problems in our Valley and around the nation, I realize that unity has a power all its own and uniting for what’s right is even more powerful.