Remembering the Return of Blue Lake (Virtual Event)

Remembering the Return of Blue Lake (Virtual Event)

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On December 15, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon signed H.R. 471 into effect as Public Law 91-550, which was approved earlier by a bipartisan vote in the United States Congress. The bill ended a 64-year struggle by Taos Pueblo for return of lands vital to their culture and way of life. The legislative battle waged by Taos Pueblo symbolized Native American struggle for religious freedom and protection of sacred lands.

In celebration of the 51st anniversary of the return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo, a panel of speakers involved in the legislative battle will share their personal stories and remembrances. This virtual discussion brings together different perspectives from Taos Pueblo, the United States Congress, the White House, and the larger community of indigenous rights activists and legal advocates.

This program is organized in collaboration with the Blue Lake Committee and Taos Pueblo Tribal Government.


Mr. Gilbert Suazo, Sr. (moderator), a Taos Pueblo tribal member, served as Governor in 2007 and 2018, and is a lifetime Tribal Council member. Gilbert, in the 1960s, as a member of the younger generation, actively supported the tribe’s efforts for the return of Blue Lake. He testified at the Senate Indian Affairs Committee Hearings about Blue Lake in 1970 and participated as part of the Taos Pueblo delegation in the historic July 8, 1970 White House meeting when President Richard Nixon pledged his support to return Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo.

Sen. Fred Harris, who served as a U. S. Senator from Oklahoma (1964-1973), was the leader of successful Senate efforts to pass the landmark Taos Pueblo Blue Lake legislation. Now Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of New Mexico and a widely published author, he continues to teach in the UNM Fred Harris Congressional Internship Program.

Ms. LaDonna Harris, an enrolled citizen of the Comanche Nation, is founder and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity ( As a national leader, Harris has influenced the agendas of the civil rights, feminist, environmental and world peace movements. She was a founding member of Common Cause and the National Urban Coalition and is an ardent spokesperson against poverty and for social injustice.

Ms. Bobbie Greene Kilberg is President and CEO Emeritus of the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) and presently serves as Strategic Advisor to the Council. Kilberg served as a White House Fellow on the staff of President Nixon’s Domestic Policy Council and was instrumental in coordinating the White House’s support of Taos Pueblo’s Blue Lake legislation. She visited Taos Pueblo during the crucial final days of pending congressional action on the legislation and even rode on horseback to visit Blue Lake with Pueblo and other White House representatives.

Mr. Cameron L. Martinez, is a Taos Pueblo tribal member, has served in the BIA in Forestry and Natural Resources for over 30 years, served as a Senior Fellow in Public Policy and Administration at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government with emphasis in Native American policy, and is currently the Director of Natural Resources for Taos Pueblo where oversees the Blue Lake Wilderness in conjunction with the Taos Pueblo WarChief’s Office.

Mr. Jerry Straus is an attorney in Washington, DC representing Indian Tribes for more than 57 years. In 1963, he was hired by Wilkingson, Cragun, and Barker, one of the few firms which then practiced Indian law in the District of Columbia. A notable highlight of Jerry’s career was his work in 1970 assisting Taos Pueblo in its successful effort to have Congress return its 48,000-acre sacred Blue Lake lands to them. This was the first time that such a large piece of land wrongfully taken by the United States was restored to the tribe.

Image credit: President Richard Nixon Signing H.R. 471 Blue Lake Bill Taos-Pueblo American Indian Land Deed. Governor Quirino Romero, Cacique Juan de Jesus Romero and Paul Bernal Witnessing, December 15, 1970.