The Isleta Business Corporation (IBC) came before the Isleta Tribal Council on July 31, 2014, to give its quarterly report. The IBC is responsible for management of several tribal enterprises such as: the Isleta Travel Center, Isleta One Stop, Isleta Conservation Enterprise and the Comanche Ranch. It is also responsible for investing eight (8) million dollars in various business ventures. This cash came from the Tribe’s Casino.
Currently, the Board of Directors for the IBC are:
Jim Fitting, Chairman of the Board;
Michael Paquin, Vice-Chairman of the Board;
Jessica Jaramillo; &
Chip R. Martin is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the IBC.
The CEO reported that since 1997, the Tribe has lost 3.5 million dollars due to the cattle enterprise at the Comanche Ranch. Martin explained that the financial history of the Tribe’s cattle business has proven that “it is not going to be a profitable venture.” He also said, according to experts, “we don’t have the grass to support the cattle.”
Council member Joseph “Cougar” Lucero became irritated with Martin’s statement. He interrupted by asking, “How does he know? Did he bring a pair of dice with him?” Lucero stated that all they are doing is guessing and that the experts can’t predict the future. The CEO tried to respond by explaining that the expert was basing his opinion on reports that experts typically rely on to render an opinion. Council member Lucero stated that he is better able to decide for himself whether there will be enough grass because he can see it for himself.
Martin also raised the issue as to the status of the land known as the “Comanche Ranch.” Since 1997, the Tribe has been on a slow and steady path to placing the land into trust status. Basically, this means that the US government would hold the land for the benefit of the Tribe. Getting the land into trust status has numerous and various legal consequences.
For example, the State and County would no longer be able to collect taxes on that land. Also, the Tribe or the IBC would no longer be able to use the land as collateral for its business ventures. The trust status would also prevent the Tribal Council and Governor from selling that land.
Nevertheless, for several reasons, the legal process of getting the land into trust status is slow and tedious. For instance, the land is checker boarded. This means that the Tribe does not own multiple parcels of land within the “Comanche Ranch” area. Keep in mind that the Comanche Ranch is approximately 120,000 acres. So, the checker board status is one of the primary obstacles of getting the land into trust.
Robert Lucero is on the Board of Directors for the IBC, he is also a former council member. He was on the Council when the Tribe purchased the land. He stated that no one ever told the Council, in 1997, that the land was checker boarded.
Council President Michael Allen Lente disagreed by reminding him that his brother, Alvino Lucero, was the Governor. And, at that time, Governor Lucero told the Council that the land was checker boarded. Lente also served on the Council back in 97.
Discussion of the land status allowed the Council to avoid an in depth discussion of the Tribe losing 3.5 million dollars with the cattle business at the Comanche Ranch. Instead, the Council began discussing whether to place the land into trust. This occurred because Chip Martin wanted clarification on the trust status since a prior Council transferred responsibility for the cattle business to the IBC.
People refer to the Comanche Ranch as the enterprise. But, that is not correct. There are two (2) separate components to the Ranch. First, the land, which is approximately 120,000 acres. Second, the cows, which currently consists of approximately 600 head of cattle. The Tribe’s cows are located at the Comanche Ranch and the cows are the business enterprise.
It’s important to remember this distinction because the land that we purchased increased our land base, which is good. As council member Douglas Jiron states, we will now have land for “our children that have not yet been born.”
The purchase of the cows, however, was a very ignorant decision by the 1997 Council because it has resulted in our Tribe losing millions of dollars. Since 1997, every Governor and Council has failed to properly examine the wisdom of our Tribe staying in the cattle business.
So, for the past 17 years, our Tribal Councils and Governors have failed to protect the Tribe because they allowed the cattle enterprise to bleed away our money. Our Tribe has not made a dime by maintaining those cows. Excuse after excuse is all that you will hear from people in favor of keeping our Tribe in the cattle business.
How is our Tribe able to stay in the cattle business? Because each year, for the past 17 years, we have used our profits from the Casino to piss away on a bunch of cows. How much money? 3.5 million dollars wasted. Any other business would have gone bankrupt. Our cattle enterprise is not self-sustaining. If we had a healthy cattle business, it would be able to survive without money from the Casino.
I served on the Council two terms 1999-2000 and 2001-2002. During my time, I fought very hard to shut down the cattle enterprise because it was so obvious that we were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. At one time, we had so many old cows that we were becoming a rest home for cattle because we were not able to sell them.
Unfortunately, I was in the minority. Governor Alvino Lucero and the majority of the Council, at that time, argued that the cattle was “our way of life.” As you may recall, back in those good old days, I issued a newsletter called “Isleta Tribal Politics” and I wrote several articles about the cattle enterprise losing money.
But, the concerns that I raised in my newsletter were ignored. Instead, the issues that I raised resulted in Governor Alvino Lucero and his political cronies banishing me from serving in any public office with our Tribe for the rest of my life.
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By Christopher Abeita