- July 19, 2003 Paul Bernal, Who Fought for Tribal Watershed, Dies at 92 By WOLFGANG SAXON Paul J. Bernal, a Pueblo Indian elder who, as a liaison to the federalMessage 1 of 1 , Jul 21, 2003View Source
NY Time obit #3
July 19, 2003
Paul Bernal, Who Fought for Tribal Watershed, Dies at 92
By WOLFGANG SAXON
Paul J. Bernal, a Pueblo Indian elder who, as a liaison to the federal government, helped his people recover title to their sacred Blue Lake in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico, died on Wednesday in Taos Pueblo. He was 92.
Mr. Bernal was a principal in the last act of a 60-year struggle to restore a place central to the pueblo's religious beliefs and livelihood. Tradition holds that in the mountain lake high above the Taos Pueblo reservation rest the souls of people who have dwelled there since the 14th century.
It also is the source of the Rio Pueblo de Taos, a sparkling stream that runs through the reservation, providing drinking water and irrigation. European settlers had encroached upon the land since the 17th century.
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt appropriated the Blue Lake lands from the reservation and annexed them to Carson National Forest to safeguard their unspoiled nature. Ever since, the Taos Pueblo had been fighting that fiat across a cultural and linguistic divide.
The pueblo's council of elders, who conducted business in the Tiwa language, found little understanding from the men who held sway in Washington, least of all with New Mexico's Congressional delegation. The language barrier stalled their quest for decades, at which point Mr. Bernal came in.
Mr. Bernal, as the English-speaking council secretary, worked with Juan de Jesus Romero, the Taos Pueblo's religious leader, to negotiate an agreement with the federal government. It was enacted by Congress and signed by President Richard M. Nixon before Mr. Romero and Mr. Bernal on Dec. 15, 1970.
The act set aside 48,000 acres of Carson National Forest to be held in trust by the federal government for the Taos Pueblo Indians to use for "traditional purposes." It restored their rights to hunt, fish, graze livestock and hold their lakeside ceremonies undisturbed.
Mr. Bernal was born at Taos Pueblo in 1911. He was brought up in the traditional ways and as a young man joined others who felt that the United States should return the sacred watershed.
He served in the Navy aboard the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga in World War II, polishing his English and observing the ways of the outside world. After he returned in 1946, the tribal council appointed him as its interpreter and a strategist for what became 24 years of agitation for the return of the watershed.
Mr. Bernal's survivors include two sons, two sisters and a brother.
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