- Pueblo Sovereignty: Indian Land and Water in New Mexico and Texas by Malcolm Ebright and Rick Hendricks
[Erratum: In López 2020, the reviewer’s name was misspelled as a result of an error introduced during the production process. The correct spelling is Rick López.]
Malcolm Ebright and Rick Hendricks draw on deep knowledge of public and private archives to masterfully narrate the legal history of Pueblo sovereignty under Spanish, Mexican, and US domination, from the late sixteenth century to the present. Through four case studies in New Mexico, plus Ysleta del Sur in west Texas, they trace how Pueblo Indians experienced the loss or threat of loss of the places they considered home, and how they fended off persistent political exploitation and land speculation.
The introduction lays out some of the historical legal structures that impacted Pueblo tribes’ control over their land. These include the Spanish Protector de Indios, the Mexican elimination of the caste system, and the US Dawes Act  and its amendments, the Bursum Bill , and Pueblo Lands Board . In each of the five case studies, authors find that indigenous self-defense showed success but reached limits when the tribe lacked bureaucratic advocates or legal counsel. It is when the tribes combined self-advocacy with effective legal counsel that they best defended their sovereignty.
Each of the chapters focuses on a specific community to exemplify an aspect of the broader Pueblo experience. The first chapter, on the Pojoaque Pueblo, “is the story of how a very small pueblo almost died twice and in each case came back, not merely to survive, but to thrive” (27). The second chapter, on the Nambé Pueblo, is a detailed account of encroachment and land loss, with particular emphasis on the importance of advocates in the government bureaucracy and legal representation in the courts. Chapter 3 considers how the Tesuque Pueblo’s history as a hotbed of local rebellion (from the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 through the Fence War of 1922) impacted its ability to protect its sovereignty and land, and its relations with indigenous and non-indigenous neighbors.
The richest of the book’s case studies is that of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in Chapter 4. It traces how Ysleta, established in the El Paso area after the Revolt of 1680, resisted land [End Page 485] encroachment, managed changes in the land and river, and asserted tribal status and legal sovereignty in relation to the United States and the state of Texas. It closes with discussion of Ysleta’s current efforts to assert its legal rights as a sovereign tribe.
The final case study (Chapter 5) shows why the Isleta Pueblo of New Mexico was a success, highlighting strong tribal leadership (exemplified by Pablo Abeita in the early twentieth century), skillful political and legal negotiation, strategic purchase of lands and vigilant defense of those lands against encroachment, and effective use of advocates within the bureaucracy and legal counsel in the courts. The conclusion suggests how the tribes’ past assertions of legal and territorial sovereignty remain important today, and the epilogue explains the historical importance of the so-called Lincoln canes.
Ebright and Hendricks’ study seems to make three novel contributions. First, its inclusion of the often overlooked Ysleta del Sur community, created after the Revolt of 1680, enriches our understanding of Pueblo experience on its own terms, rather than confining it to the modern state of New Mexico. Second, without downplaying the importance of native peoples’ collective and individual agency, it demonstrates the pivotal roles of bureaucratic advocates and of legal counsel, mostly attorneys. Third, the book recounts the history of Pueblo communities’ defense of land, water, and self-governance with an eye toward bolstering the tribes’ current legal cases.
This book spans groups of Pueblo Indians that were rent asunder by history, but whose stories remain more integrated than is typically acknowledged. I would have preferred more analysis to match the narrative, and some explanation of how the authors’ inquiry or...