Udall, Heinrich, Luján Celebrate Restored Access to Historical Cemetery for San Joaquin del Rio de Chama Land Grant Heirs

SANTA FE, NM - U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Congressman Ben Ray Luján celebrated the restored access to the San Joaquin del Rio de Chama Land Grant's cemetery. On Saturday, October 26, Luján along with staff from the two senators' offices joined the heirs to the land grant to mark the determination of the boundary for the cemetery that had inadvertently been considered part of Chama River Canyon Wildness Area since 1978.

"The history and culture of San Joaquin del Rio de Chama Land Grant are an important part of our state's heritage, and the land grant's cemetery was never intended to be a part of the Chama River Canyon Wilderness. I was proud to help facilitate an administrative agreement between the San Joaquin del Rio de Chama Land Grant heirs and the Forest Service, and I'm pleased that we were able to find a common-sense solution that respects and honors the land grant's history, culture and traditions," Senator Udall said. "This weekend, work on a path to the cemetery was begun, marking a historic moment for the San Joaquin del Rio de Chama Land Grant and the broader community. The gathering celebrated our collaboration, and it demonstrated what good can come when the federal government and our communities form partnerships and work for a common solution. I hope to continue to work with land grant communities and federal agencies to find sound solutions to historic conflicts."

"The San Joaquin del Rio de Chama Land Grant has a long and storied history in northern New Mexico and I am encouraged by this homegrown, collaborative effort to ensure that the community can better access the cemetery," said Senator Heinrich. "I am grateful to the members of the San Joaquin del Rio de Chama Land Grant, the U.S. Forest Service, and the local conservation community for working together to find this innovative solution."

"I am so pleased that years of hard work and cooperation have paid off as the heirs to the land grant will now be able to care for the cemetery and have increased access to land that has been a part of their history and heritage," said Congressman Luján. "This was an historic moment that honors not only the past history of the San Joaquin del Rio de Chama Land Grant, but the present and future as well. The land grant heirs represent an important piece of the fabric of New Mexico and their culture and traditions are part of what make New Mexico such a special place. This was a collaborative effort and an example of what we can achieve when we all work together."

The San Joaquin del Rio de Chama Land Grant, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Wilderness Society also hailed the restored access of the cemetery to the land grant.

"Saturday was an historic day in the history of the land grant, as so many people came together to celebrate and contribute to the effort to construct a trail that will enable greater access to the cemetery," said Leonard Martinez, President of the San Joaquin del Rio de Chama Land Grant Association. "The widened path will allow the elderly of the merced to climb to the cemetery where their ancestors were buried over a century ago."

"The collaborative effort that took place to come to this win-win situation was unprecedented. The Forest Service looks forward to working with this and other land grants in the future on projects that help honor their rich history and traditions," said Maria Garcia, Forest Supervisor, Santa Fe National Forest.

"The Wilderness Society was proud to support this effort to clarify the status of the cemetery for the descendants of the San Joaquin del Rio de Chama Land Grant," said Michael Casaus, New Mexico State Director of The Wilderness Society. "This collaboration proves that when we focus on our shared values, we can work together to find solutions that result in protections for our land, culture and way of life."

The San Joaquin del Rio de Chama Land Grant is made up of descendants of the 39 original heirs to whom the land grant was given in 1806 by the Spanish Crown. The land grant is recognized as a political subdivision by the State of New Mexico. In 2011, Rep. Luján began working with the land grant in an effort to seek increased access to its traditional cemetery that, at the time, was assumed to lie inside of the Chama River Canyon Wilderness Area bordering the boundaries of the historic land grant. Senators Udall and Heinrich later joined the effort, providing critical assistance that resulted in successfully restoring access to the cemetery for the land grant heirs.

For more than three decades, the land grant could not make necessary changes and improvements to maintain the cemetery's old graves and religious sites, and did not have motorized access. As a result of discussions with the congressional offices, the land grant heirs, and the U.S. Forest Service, a review of the maps outlining the wilderness boundary was conducted, and it was discovered that the wilderness boundary was never fully completed and surveyed. As a result, the cemetery was improperly included in the wilderness area. After realizing the mapping error, the Forest Service agreed that the wilderness boundaries should exclude the cemetery from the area without the need for congressional legislation that would have slowed the process. On Saturday, the land grant heirs marked their expanded access to the cemetery and began work to establish a new path to the cemetery for the families of those who established the settlement generations ago.