Book Review: Advocates for the Oppressed: Hispanos, Indians, Genízaros, and Their Land in New Mexico By Malcolm Ebright


Malcolm159An alternate subtitle of Malcolm Ebright’s new book Advocates for the Oppressed could have been “The Vision of Governor Tomás Vélez Cachupín.” Vélez Cachupín was the Spanish governor of colonial New Mexico during two tenures from 1749 to 1767 and is obviously much admired by Ebright for his advocacy of both Hispano and native populations under Spanish rule: within the courts, in resettlement, and with the establishment of community land grants.

For Ebright, Vélez Cachupín is emblematic of those who advocated for the oppressed in their struggles for land and water rights. While the office of Protector de Indios was established in the mid-1600s, the office wasn’t filled during Vélez Cachupín’s tenure, but he and his alcaldes protected Pueblo Indian land rights by refining the methods of measuring their lands and assisting them in buying lands from the Spanish. He also oversaw the establishment of Hispano, Pueblo, and Genízaro (Plains Indians or Navajos who were sold to Spaniards to become servants) community land grants. Ebright devotes several chapters to Vélez Cachupín and describes him this way in Chapter Eleven: “Together with his decisions protecting the land-related rights of marginalized members of society, Vélez Cachupín’s land grants show a vision of Hispanos, Genízaros, and Pueblo Indians living together and protecting themselves from outside attack [from Plains Indians].”

Ebright details the histories and struggles of a number of Hispano, Indian, and Genízaro land grants that are representative of the legal machinations that influenced that history. Chapter One lays out the conflicting colonial beliefs that Indians in the Americas were either “soulless” inferiors to the Spaniards and in need of Christian conversion or rational beings whose rights should be protected. Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas’s appointment as the first Protector de Indios set in motion a legal avenue for Indians to limit Spanish encroachment on their lands. But as ensuing chapters demonstrate, conflict between them continued for centuries, playing out in various ways. For instance, Chapter Five tells the story of La Ciénega and Cieneguilla pueblos, two of the least studied of the Galisteo Basin pueblos. These communities began ancient pueblos, were acquired by the Spaniards after the Pueblo Revolt, occupied by poor Hispanos and Genízaros, and then taken over by wealthy Spanish elites. Ironically, because these communities are some of the oldest in New Mexico, their water rights are among the oldest and “perhaps most expensive” and today, friction between families that have sold their water rights to developers and those who want to retain their agricultural base has flared up.

Other chapters detail the long and difficult resettlement of the Ojo Caliente grant and its subsequent acquisition by a land grant speculator; the Cochiti Pueblo and Zia, Santa Ana, and Jemez (also known as the Ojo del Espiritu Santo grant) pueblo grazing grants; and the San Marcos, San Cristóbal, and Galisteo pueblo grants, pre-contact pueblos in the Galisteo Basin.

There is also an interesting chapter called “A City Different Than We Thought”, which tells of the story of two “mostly mythical” land grants in early Santa Fe that were created by nineteenth century lawyers to make money by claiming the Villa of Santa Fe was a formal land grant of four square leagues (Four Square Leagues is the title of Ebright’s previous book about pueblo land grants which was reviewed by La Jicarita in August).

Pueblo and land grant lawyers and activists continue to advocate for their rights today. Ebright ends with the story of Zuni Pueblo’s successful efforts to recover sacred lands, including Zuni Salt Lake, and religious objects such as masks and carved war gods from museums. Unfortunately, the Navajo Nation was not so fortunate several weeks ago when it was forced to pay for religious items that were being auctioned in France.

Advocates for the Oppressed is available in bookstores, through UNM Press, and the Center for Land Grant Studies.


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