SANDIA PUEBLO, N.M. (AP) — Sandia Pueblo on Thursday became one of the nation’s first American Indian communities to have more authority over leasing their land under a law aimed at expediting home building and energy development on tribal lands.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Sandia Pueblo Gov. Victor Montoya participated in a signing ceremony of regulations that will allow the tribe to approve trust land leases directly, rather than waiting for approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which sometimes takes years.
“This is a monumental step for Indian Country and for the United States,” Salazar told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Salazar said the new leasing regulations will encourage economic development on tribal lands and generate investment, jobs and revenue for Indian communities.
“With these approved leasing regulations, the pueblo will have the authority to decide how they want to do business on their lands — which is as it should be,” he said.
The so-called HEARTH Act, which clears the way for the regulations, was signed last summer by President Barack Obama. It’s expected to open the door to badly needed housing development on reservations, as well as wind and solar energy projects that tribes have been eager to launch.
Sandia’s leasing regulations are only the second in the nation to be approved. Regulations for the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria in California were approved last month, according to the Interior Department.
Sandia Pueblo — which operates a hotel, casino and golf course on the northern edge of Albuquerque — expects to use its new authority primarily to promote economic development. Salazar said that could also have positive implications for the broader New Mexico economy.
The pueblo covers about 40 square miles. Bisected by busy Interstate 25, it stretches from the Sandia Mountains west to the Rio Grande.