Moving ancient rocks would destroy their spiritual significance

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AUTHOR: Erik Siemers, Tribune Reporter

To the American Indians who hold them sacred, the seven rocks in the way of Paseo del Norte’s westward expansion aren’t inanimate stones. They’re alive. They’re connections to their sacred earth that can’t be replicated 100 feet away.

Which is why the city’s plans to relocate the rocks decorated with ancient petroglyphic markings – even if they’re in the same orientation as they were found – is disturbing, said Lorene Willis, director of the Jicarilla Apache’s cultural affairs office.

“They can’t move those rocks,” Willis said. “It loses its significance once it’s been moved.”

“I don’t know if the city can understand that.”

The state Cultural Properties Review Committee in June granted the city a permit to collect data from the roadway path but wanted the city to consult with tribes before the permit took effect.

On Monday, the committee said the city can start the work after Dec. 21. In the meantime, the city must consult with tribal officials from the Jicarilla Apache Nation of Dulce and the Picuris Pueblo of northern New Mexico and then report back to the committee Dec. 2 on its findings.

Committee member Craig Hoopes said the permit has been granted and that, after Dec. 2, he doesn’t expect any more discussion on the issue.

Gerry Raymond, a city-contracted archaeologist with Parsons Brinkerhoff, said his staff has dug test pits to search for pollen that could tell them what plants were used in ancient rituals. They’ve found little to indicate they’ll find much more, he said.

The issue sets the city’s infrastructure needs against American Indian cultural heritage.

Albuquerque voters last fall approved a bond package that included $8.7 million to extend Paseo some 1.6 miles west from Golf Course Road through a portion of Petroglyph National Monument.

Last month, state District Court Judge Linda M. Vanzi ruled that the city followed procedure in determining whether extending the West Side road through the monument was the best option in handling future traffic demands. The timeline of construction isn’t clear yet, said John Castillo, director of the city Department of Municipal Development.

Raymond believes the rocks could be relocated from the road’s path around January.

There are seven rocks in the road’s path – five are actual boulders averaging 2 feet high by 2 feet wide, Raymond said.

The last two are what archaeologists have termed “grinding slicks,” or flat areas used to grind materials. Raymond said some of the Jicarilla officials believe one of them is a touchstone, a stone rubbed during rituals.

The larger stones weigh “hundreds of pounds,” Raymond said. “We can’t lift them by hand.”

Plans call for using a front-end loader-type machine equipped with a strap to carry the boulders, he said.

The rocks would move 100 feet to the southwest and be oriented the same way they were found, he said.

“So when moving them, marking their exact location is important because that location may have been important,” Raymond said.

Their location is important, Willis said, but only where they sit now – not 100 feet to the southwest.

“When they talk about trying to put them in the same alignment, it doesn’t mean anything to us. It’s just their own way of justifying what they’re trying to do,” Willis said. “It doesn’t make sense to us if they’re going to move them. It has no more significance to us.”

“They’ve destroyed something that would be sacred to our people.” Both Castillo and Raymond said the method of relocating the rocks could change after consulting with the American Indian tribes.

Willis said they have alternatives, though she declined to disclose them. The Jicarilla were placed on their reservation in 1887. Prior to that, the Apache lived as far away as Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle and down in Roswell.

Willis said the tribe is not opposed to the road. Members understand that development is happening in Albuquerque, she said.

But those rocks, she said, have been placed in their locations for a reason. They have a connection with the Earth, she said.

“But those things are living,” she said. “Everything is all connected.”

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Erik Siemers can be reached at [email protected]