Those opposed to deeding Blue Lake outright to the Indians argue with fervor that the Pueblos never held legal title to the area, hence this is not a matter of "returning" 48,000 acres. Since the time of the Spaniards the contested land has been in the public domain. Additionally, and more important, the present bill would establish a precedent of making land, instead of that more traditional currency, cash, the basis of settlements with Indians. Other tribes, it is contended, could demand the return of much of Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the San Francisco Peaks—to mention just a few national glories—as religious shrines, which indeed they once were.
The government recognizes what it calls the "aboriginal title" of Indian tribes to lands they once occupied, and it is on this basis that it pays them for land the U.S. took from them, but aboriginal title is in no way regarded as the equivalent of legal title to the land. Indians claim aboriginal title to 90% of the U.S.
Opponents of the House bill declare that the Pueblos, under the terms of the 1940 agreement giving the tribe exclusive use of the area for 50 years, already control the Blue Lake region as if they owned it, with the exception of grazing rights. The Forest Service supervises the grazing, it is claimed, simply because the Indians have a history of overgrazing this land and misuse causes erosion and floods downriver, damaging other farmers' property.
Since 1957, tribal officials have cosigned every permit issued for entry into the area, and these passes are given infrequently. Non-Indians without permits admittedly have ventured into the land, but by and large, in the past 20 years, the prohibition has been well-enforced. Lumbering, camping and fishing by outsiders is outlawed. Young Pueblos, however, have been known to smuggle in anglers, charging them $1 a day to fish in the sacred places.
The move to cede Blue Lake is principally, the opposition says, nothing more than expiation by Americans for their guilt feelings for treatment of Indians in the past.