The Treaty was incorporated into New Mexico’s State Constitution in 1912 and is part of the state’s legal and cultural heritage. The NMDOJ Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Division, created in 2003, was established to review, oversee and address concerns relating to the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that have not been implemented or observed in the spirit of Article 2, Section 5 of the Constitution of New Mexico.
The Treaty Division provides legal representation to the New Mexico Land Grant Council and the New Mexico Acequia Commission. The Division’s vision is to take a proactive approach to finding solutions and responding to the evolving needs of the Land Grant and Acequia Communities by providing legal support, policy development and outreach. Land grant issues remain vexing in New Mexico and claims of new or continued ownership of ancestral lands are a top priority. The Treaty Division continues to pursue resolutions to the encroachment of historical common lands while seeking to protect, perpetuate and celebrate New Mexico’s history and culture of land grants and acequias. The Division also works with the land grant council to identify legal assistance for land grants-mercedes that are political subdivisions of the State under §49 NMSA 1978 and reviews and responds to election contests filed with the treaty division in accordance with §49-1-7 NMSA 1978. Additionally, a top priority of the Treaty Division is to continue the development and building of the New Mexico Department of Justice Attorneys General, Land Grant-Merced and Acequía Historical Gallery & Repository.
Brief History of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848 and officially ended the Mexican-American War. The Treaty, and soon after the Protocol de Querétaro, explicitly recognized the personal and property rights of New Mexicans and Pueblo Indians brought under U.S. sovereignty. The U.S. developed procedures to validate land grants in the New Mexico territory in order to implement the Treaty and the Protocol de Querétaro provisions. Whether the U.S. carried out the provisions of the treaty with regard to community land grants has been a controversial issue as many land grant heirs, scholars and legal experts believe the U.S. did not protect the common lands of community land grants. The treaty was incorporated into New Mexico’s State Constitution in 1912 and is part of the state’s legal and cultural heritage.
Spanish and Mexican land grant-mercedes were established by grants of land made to both communities and individuals by the Spanish Crown or Mexican Government to encourage settlements in New Mexico from 1600s to the 1800s. These communities have historically carried the responsibility of maintaining these lands for farming, ranching and other traditional uses necessary for their survival. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo required an adjudication process for Spanish and Mexican land titles; however, land ownership based on a rural, communal system contrasted with the United States legal system, and many land grants were lost or significantly reduced. The land grant-mercedes that were retained through the adjudication process remain an irreplaceable source of New Mexico’s traditional values and historic cultural roots.
Acequias in the State of New Mexico are some of the oldest water management institutions in the United States and are integral to the New Mexican environment. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo recognized the importance of acequias as a century old practice and in 1851 the territory of New Mexico passed its first water laws. These community ditches bring water to agricultural fields across Northern New Mexico, and centuries-old traditions of water sharing are important examples of sustainable water use. Local communities in Bernalillo, Río Arriba, Taos and other counties statewide still clean their ditches, irrigate and elect their mayordomo and commissioners.