Governor Torres Refuses to Enforce Tribe’s Policies on Range Land

On September 2, 2014, the Isleta Tribal Council discussed the ongoing problem with protection of the Tribe’s range land. Several tribal members that own cattle use the Tribe’s land to graze their cattle. Last year, this Council learned that cattle were starving and dying because there was no grass for the cows to eat. Grass was not growing due to the drought.

Also, many of the tribal members that use the Tribe’s range were failing to feed their own cattle by taking hay bales to the range. One of the reasons that the cattlemen are failing to take hay bales to the range is due to the fact that each grazing pasture is shared. This means that several people could have their cows in one pasture. For example, if I own cows, my cows would not necessarily eat the hay bales that I took to the range because someone else’s cows would get to the hay before my cows.

Anyhow, cows were dying on the range from starvation. The Council became very concerned because there was a serious threat that disease could spread due to the carcasses rotting out in the open. And, the cattle owners were failing to properly dispose of their dead cows.

Additionally, the Council received reports from experts advising the Tribe that it was necessary to remove the cattle from the range to allow the land to recover from over grazing. Failure to remove the cattle would result in the land losing all vegetation and becoming a wasteland. Despite the recent rain, this remains a serious threat.

So, last year, the Council determined that it was necessary to protect the Tribe’s land by requiring the cattle owners to remove their cows from the range. At that time, Governor Torres advised the Council that he would take care of the problem and he also issued a directive to the cattle owners to remove their cows.

A very small handful of the cattlemen complied. Most, simply refused to honor the Council’s decision for removal of the cattle along with the Governor’s directive. Governor Torres took no enforcement action against the cattlemen that disregarded the order to remove their cattle from the Tribe’s land.

Several of the council members were frustrated and “fed up” because the cattlemen refused to remove their cattle. And, Governor Torres was doing nothing to enforce the decision to protect the range from overgrazing.

Eddie Paul Torres, as the Governor, has a duty to enforce the laws and policies of the Pueblo because he is the Executive officer of the Pueblo. The Isleta Tribal Constitution states:

“The duties of the governor shall include the following: To direct and administer the civil affairs of the pueblo in conformity with applicable ordinances, procedures, and policies enacted by the council.” Isleta Const. art. IV, §5(a).

Governor Eddie Paul Torres became irritated with the Council’s discussion and he declared that he was not going to enforce the Council’s decisions about the range. He told the Council, why don’t you bring them all in [the cattlemen] and, you can tell them what you want! Essentially, Torres was daring the Council to bring in the cattlemen to speak to them directly.

Council member James Abeita told the Governor, that the Council has a duty to protect all of the Tribe’s resources. Abeita then read the following from the Tribal Constitution:

[T]he powers of the council shall include: To otherwise manage and control the lands and resources of the pueblo for the best interests of the pueblo. Isleta Const. art. V,  §2(l).

Council member Abeita said, “it doesn’t say, for the best interests of the cattle owners.”  We have an obligation to protect the land for all of the Tribe, for everyone.

Governor Torres said that he is “fed up” with the problem just like the Council. He said that he had a meeting with the cattlemen and they are ready to “lynch” someone. Governor Torres then stated that with the recent rain that there is no longer any problem with the range. He said that the grass is growing very well.

Council member Joseph “Cougar” Lucero explained that it was necessary to give the grass that is now growing an opportunity to mature and develop seeds. This would allow the land to recover by the grass reseeding the overgrazed land. Lucero said, the land would then allow all of the other “small animals” to live. He was concerned that allowing the cattle to remain at the range would not give the land an opportunity to recover because the cows would eat the grass before it could reseed the land, which would cause the range to become a “wasteland”.

At times, the discussion became heated. Nevertheless, the Council will address the issue once again because there was no conclusion on how to enforce the Council’s decision to protect the Tribe’s range land.


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By Christopher Abeita

6 Replies to “Governor Torres Refuses to Enforce Tribe’s Policies on Range Land”

  1. Did Fernando Michael Allen Eddie Douglas Phillip bring down there cows? They like telling us what to do but don’t like following the law.

    1. Council member Fernando Abeita did bring down his cows from the range. During the discussion on September 2nd, Abeita said that his cows were not at the range. No one disputed him. General comments were made about council members not bringing down their cows. The President of the Council, Michael Allen Lente, was accused of not bringing down his cows. However, he was not present for the meeting. So, he could not defend himself against the claim. I’m not sure whether the other officials that you identified brought down their cows. The Council members are very careful about attacking each other directly. I think they do their best to avoid direct attacks against each other because things can get pretty ugly very quickly.

      Secretary Verna Teller made a comment about the conflicts of interests that some of the council members have with regard to maintaining cattle on the range and then voting on issues directly related to their cows. But, she did not specifically identify anyone. And, none of the other council members replied to her comment. Nor, did they give her support.

      The primary focus of the council’s discussion was Governor Torres not enforcing the directive for the cattlemen to bring down their cows. The Governor has the authority to direct employees to round up the cattle and remove the cows by impounding them. Torres admitted that he can take the cattlemen to court and enforce the law. He certainly has an army of lawyers at his disposal to do the job. The Governor can do so against anyone (including individual council members). But, he flat out told the council that he would not enforce the decision to remove the cattle from the range.

      Indeed, the Governor should start removing the cattle from the range. And, start legal enforcement against the Council members first. Once people start seeing enforcement, everyone else would likely comply. I don’t see why some people are privileged while many other tribal members are prosecuted vigorously by the Tribal Prosecutor. It’s absolute non-sense for the Governor to ensure prosecution of people he considers unimportant while a privileged few get away with destroying a resource that belongs to the ENTIRE tribe.

      Tribal members need to speak up and question the Governor and the Council members about the decisions they make.

      1. I hear you talking about the land be coming a waste land. But, what about the cattle? They have no voice! I have seen those cattle, they look like skin hangs on bones. The cattle cry because they are hungry. If you have animals, it is your duty to take care of them. If you do not want to sell them, put them on your land and feed “just your cattle.” If I ever let any of my animals starve, I would have been beaten to an inch of my life because I was told it was a responsibility to have animals, it is a serious undertaking. If the humane society ever saw those cattle in Isleta, the cattle owners would have lawsuits against them for cruelty to animals. Cattle owner have a serious problem, if they do not take care of the herd and the land they graze on. If you had nothing to eat, how would you feel? I can’t understand why people would be okay letting their animals suffer.

  2. In the Northwest (we get plenty of rain) and there are years tribal members had to remove cattle from range lands due to overgrazing. Those that chose not to respect tribal laws, their cattle was rounded up and they were given 30 days to reclaim. In other words they forfeited there grazing rights and even lost cattle. Grazing is a privilege not a right.

  3. If Gov. Torres opts to defy a tribal policy – by failing to enforce standing policy – then the tribal council should give him a directive via roll call motion. If Gov. Torres disobeys the directive, then suspend him!

    There are three serious issues: 1) welfare of animals; 2) restoration of grazing land; and 3) political pandering. The actions of Gov. Torres will demonstrate his integrity along with his leaderships skills or lack thereof.

    1. ReGina, you’re correct with regard to the 3 issues that you identify as “serious issues.” Unfortunately, Governor Torres is afraid of the cattle owners and that’s the reason he’s refusing to enforce the Tribe’s policy.

      The Isleta Tribal Council, however, DOES NOT have the power to suspend the Governor. Nor, should they. There is nothing in the Constitution that empowers the Council to suspend the Governor or another council member.

      The Council could charge the Governor with “Gross Neglect of Duty” and take action to have him recalled from office. But, that will never happen because the Council lacks the political will to do so.

What are your thoughts?