By New Mexico State Land Office News
SANTA FE, NM–State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn and Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye are negotiating a land exchange to convey State Trust Lands with historical and cultural significance to the Navajo Nation. An exchange would resolve unauthorized access issues, enable the Nation to install infrastructure such as utilities and roads to existing homesites, and preserve gravesites.
The agreement will resolve issues that exist in areas where State Trust Lands, Bureau of Land Management lands, and Navajo Nation lands are intermingled. The exchange is expected to convey nearly 38,000 acres
of State Trust Lands in McKinley and San Juan counties, while the State Land Office would acquire approximately 38,000 acres within the Slash Bar Ranch and Henderson Ranch in Socorro County. Both ranches are owned by the Navajo Nation and include leased State Trust Lands.
Commissioner Dunn’s proposal was prompted, in part, by the discovery of a Navajo graveyard on State Trust Lands in McKinley County. In 2016, a field inspection of open acreage revealed the one-half acre cemetery consisting of 60 gravesites. The investigation further determined that four mortuaries were primarily responsible for Navajo burials on land currently identified, as State Trust Lands and an exchange would allow funeral homes to continue to serve the Navajo community.
Since the early 1900s, the Navajo Nation has held agricultural leases, which currently cover over 122,000 acres of State Trust Lands and have brought about more than 100 instances of unauthorized uses including homesites, corrals, water tanks, hogans, and roads. A land swap would allow the Nation to fully manage their agricultural lands and secure appropriate access to infrastructure, including water and electricity.
“A land exchange with the Navajo Nation would benefit both the Navajo Nation and the State Trust Land beneficiaries by consolidating lands and allowing for more effective management of our respective assets,” said Commissioner Dunn.
Both parties agree that the exchange shall be completed on or before August 31, 2018.