The Petroglyph National Monument—You Had To Be There

"Let Me Offer Some History Of What Brought Us To This Controversy"

Joseph J. Carraro
6 min read
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We have just completed a walk through with the governor of the area at the Petroglyph Monument in dispute with the extension of Paseo del Norte. Once again both sides have presented the same arguments with Gov. Richardson trying to bring compromise to an issue that was resolved years ago; that compromise was established when all parties agreed to the extension and the Petroglyph Park. To now seek a compromise of a compromise is unfair to those residents of the Westside who contributed all that was necessary to establish the Monument.

So here we are again awaiting a decision with criticisms leveled at both sides of an issue that seems to deepen the divide of the mutual respect that offered a solution in the past. In response to those attacks on the right of Paseo del Norte to proceed “through” the Petroglyph Monument Park—albeit on land that is not part of the national monument, but managed by the city—let me offer some history of what brought us to this controversy in the first place, acknowledging that there currently exists a petroglyph monument that wasn't there before.

In 1985, I sponsored legislation allocating monies and direction to begin building Paseo del Norte and its accompanying bridge across the Rio Grande eventually extending beyond what is now called the Petroglyph Monument. At the meetings discussing design, alignment, the environment and the timetable for construction, there was quite a bit of input from the communities involved, but nothing from any group concerned about the petroglyphs. In 1986, I was contacted by a group called The Friends of the Petroglyphs who organized a meeting with members of nearby community organizations and Native-American groups to discuss the possibility of establishing an urban Park on the West Mesa of Albuquerque to prevent petroglyphs from being removed and used as landscaping materials, damaged by target practice, or “new” petroglyphs being created mocking the significance of the originals.

At those meetings we heard impassioned pleas from Native Americans about how important it was to not only protect their history and culture, but to take a stand as a community to show our respect and unity with their cause. There were also impassioned pleas from landowners within the proposed park concerning their plans, dreams and investments and how difficult it would be at this stage of their lives to give up and start over. It was agonizing, convincing them to move just because there were some petroglyphs nearby. But they agreed to move with the promise that they would be reimbursed, which took so long some of them had already passed away. We all realized that the petroglyph park was going to be expensive, but there was also distress over the personal sacrifices that it would entail as well.

The park was envisioned as encompassing over 6,000 acres and extending as far north as the proposed Paseo del Norte roadway. When attention was brought to the fact that there were also petroglyphs remaining north of that roadway, it was agreed by all those involved that the park would be extended north increasing its size to over 7,000 acres allowing for Paseo del Norte to intersect that section of the park to connect with another road (Unser) also intersecting the park. The Friends of the Petroglyphs even agreed to assist in its planning and agreed to the alignment as being “environmentally acceptable” and “least expensive.”

This agreement provided a benefit to all those involved. And, for those that say there wasn't an agreement, then they must admit that the communities of the Westside and their related associations involved would have never agreed to a National Monument as it now stands without the extension; the governments involved would have never created a park that would have hampered the planned extension of an already existing roadway, causing major traffic problems endangering the health and safety of nearby communities; and many more petroglyphs would now be adorning the landscaping efforts of people who appreciate their significance, or be vandalized by those who lack that appreciation.

There is clearly agreement, though, that each community is demanding respect. The Native American community is seeking the respect of its history, its culture and the sacredness that it attributes to a land that offers a remembrance to the past. The Westside gave that respect and felt a pride for its involvement and contribution. Now the Westside community is seeking respect, not for a land that allows for a link to the past, but for its present and future. The desperation that is felt is not because the remembrances of a way of life might be lost, but that a standard of living is being denied. The injustices are not of its forefathers, but of the lack of recognition of its contribution, the agreements of the past that enabled its participation, and the desperate needs providing for its health and safety. While the controversy might involve different eras, it is clear the subject involves respect of needs.

We are now asked to go beyond considering the sacredness presented by the past to regard this land as a church, while people are scrutinizing the relationships between church and state. If the sacredness of the land was mentioned before the monument was established, the ACLU would have stepped in and we would still be arguing today over the issue of whether governments can use their resources to exhibit religious symbols. Look what has happened to those stone carvings with the Ten Commandments sitting in front of government buildings. And, all other churches are required to buy the land they sit on without government involvement. It is also curious that no one is using these same arguments against the other roads intersecting the monument.

With thousands upon thousands of petroglyphs around this state that are not protected and are being lost daily, the Petroglyph National Monument has offered a safe haven. The creation of this Monument was to preserve that history while still allowing for the completion of an already planned road. That was the agreement that is now being challenged by confrontation and name-calling to promote a cultural war between people who just a few years ago exhibited a profound respect for each other, causing those who joined with the Native American community and others to establish the Petroglyph Monument to regret that decision. And, what would it be like if we had waited until today to begin to establish both projects? It's a shame to even think what might have happened.

All that is being asked of the opposition is the same respect and fairness that their partners in the effort to remember their ancestors offered—a benefit that protects their way of life as well. Maybe they oppose Paseo del Norte, because they weren't there when the agreement was made. I was!

Carraro has been a state senator representing the Westside of Albuquerque since 1985. He is a member of the Legislative Finance and Indian Affairs Committees.

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