Northeast of Grants, New Mexico, Mount Taylor rises like a blue cone above the desert and volcanic debris below. A stratovolcano that was active 1.5 million years ago, Mt. Taylor is the high point of the San Mateo Mountains and the highest point in the Cibola National Forest. To the Navajo, Mt. Taylor is Tsoodził, the turquoise mountain, one of four sacred mountains marking the cardinal directions and the boundaries of the Dinetah, the traditional Navajo homeland. Mt. Taylor is also sacred to the Acoma, Laguna, Zuni and Hopi.

When New Mexico State Land Commissioner Ray Powell returned to office in 2011, his first order of business was to sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) regarding Mt. Taylor with sovereign tribal government leaders from the New Mexico pueblos of Acoma, Laguna and Zuni, as well as the vice–chairman of the Hopi Tribe. The MOA was signed at Acoma Pueblo.

The MOA resolves previous litigation that involved former Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons’ legal attempts to thwart consultation with the sovereign tribes regarding sacred sites on Mt. Taylor. The MOA will ensure clear lines of communication and resolve the dispute between the sovereign tribal governments and the New Mexico State Land Office.

The MOA acknowledges the sovereign nation’s fundamental right to meaningful consultation before a state body adopts and implements administrative and legislative action on matters that affect them. When the Commissioner of Public Lands proposes to take any action that could affect the lands under his jurisdiction within the boundaries of the Mt. Taylor traditional cultural landscape, written notice of the proposed action shall be given to each of the tribes. The MOA also sets forth a process of consultation on proposed activities located within these boundaries.

Both federal and state mandates call for meaningful consultation with all tribes, Pueblos and Nations, and call for the implementation of “communication and consultation” policies that recognize, honor, respect and show evidence that these mandates are being followed.

At the time of the signing, Commissioner Powell stated, “My administration is committed to consult and collaborate with the sovereign Pueblos and Tribes of New Mexico when contemplating action that could affect their communities as well as important cultural and sacred sites. We will do this while working together with the sovereign nations and other local communities to create economic opportunities, continuing to earn revenues to support our public schools, universities and hospitals, and protecting and enhancing the health of our working public lands.”