Native America Project

Mescalero Apache youth take a crack at conservation

Otero Mesa in southern N.M.

Patrick Alexander via Creative Commons

Otero Mesa in southern N.M.

The Ruidoso News recently ran an article about Otero Mesa, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and some conservation-minded fifth graders in the Mescalero Apache School District.

Tucked into the southeastern corner of the state, Otero Mesa has been home to a tug-of-war between the oil and gas industry and environmentalists seeking to protect the grasslands and the wildlife living there.

It's also important to the Mescalero Apache.

Here's an excerpt of the story, written by Dianne Stallings:

"When a package arrived from Jesse Juen, New Mexico director of the Bureau of Land Management, the students in teacher Rudy Barbosa's fifth-grade class gathered around as he opened it, eager to see what was tucked inside its folds.

"'The box was filled with 25 homemade cookies that Jesse Juen himself made in his kitchen,' said Styve Homnick, the man who brought the director and the students together a week earlier to create an opportunity for the young Otero Mesa preservation supporters to share their thoughts with the director.

"'It came with a very caring card that encouraged them to keep on their path to preserve their ancestral homelands,' Homnick said.

"He explained that Barbosa taught one of two fifth-grade classes in the Mescalero Apache School District. Each class had about 25 students.

"'Four kids, two boys and two girls, stood up in front of Jesse and stated their cases, then he was presented with a medicine bag with pollen, turquoise and tobacco, and a big poster the kids made,' Homnick said. 'Each drew a picture, and in large letters it said 'Protect Otero Mesa.' A girl stood up and recited a prayer in Apache and two boys read letters they wrote to President (Barack) Obama.'"

Opposition to protecting Otero Mesa has been fierce -- and oftentimes led by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M. Here's what the Ruidoso News quoted him as saying about the prospect of protecting the area because it's important to Native people:

"As for cultural concerns, Pearce said laws already exist to protect traditional and cultural properties.

"'Every piece of New Mexico was walked on by Indians at one point,' he said. 'If we're going to do it, we need to do it all the way. Ruidoso shouldn't be here, if we're going to go to the extreme. My point with Native Americans is that I am respectful, You show me what was sacred ground and why.'"

Click here to read the entire article.