Aztec native remembered in new biography

Hannah Grover
This photo shows Al and Mary Utton following the 1997 Mexico City ceremony in which he was presented with the Aztec Eagle Award, the highest honor Mexico bestows on a foreigner, for service to Mexico and to humanity.

FARMINGTON — The time Aztec native Albert "Al" Utton spent at Oxford University in the 1950s was pivotal to his decision to become an international attorney. And that laid the foundation for him to become one of the top water rights experts in New Mexico.

Utton's life is chronicled in a book recently published by Michele Minnis. The author will discuss the book, "Al Utton, Aztec Eagle: International Waters, Research, Diplomacy, and Friendship" and sign copies of it on Sunday at the Aztec Museum.

Michele Minnis will be doing a book signing on Sunday at the Aztec Museum on her new book entitled, "Al Utton, Aztec Eagle, International Waters, Research, Diplomacy and Friendship."

Before his death in 1998, Utton said the accomplishments he was most proud of were the Bellagio Draft Treaty on trans-boundary water and the Jicarilla Apache Water Rights Settlement Act of 1992. The draft treaty identified the basic requirements for countries to use and jointly protect shared aquifers.

Jimmy Miller, president of the Aztec Museum board, said Utton was considered the foremost expert on water rights in New Mexico.

"I think Al Utton is one of the most important members of the Aztec community in many ways," Miller said.

While researching her book, Minnis said she realized that Utton's influence was felt not only in New Mexico but also internationally. The name of her book comes from an award Utton received in 1997. For his service to Mexico, the Mexican government awarded him the Order of the Aztec Eagle award, the highest recognition given to non-citizens.

This photo was taken in Senator Pete Domenici's Washington, D.C. office after a Senate Hearing on the Jicarilla Apache Water Rights Settlement agreement (l-r: Jicarilla President Levi Peseta, Lester Taylor, Senator Pete Domenici, former Jicarilla President Hubert Velarde, Al Utton, Jicarilla Council Member Rudy Velarde, and Dan Press.

As a Rhodes Scholar, Utton traveled in Europe and north Africa. In addition to witnessing damage to infrastructure after World War II, Utton noticed the psychological scars the war had left.

"He saw just the great devastation," Minnis said.

Utton also had the opportunity to attend a month-long seminar in January 1955 in Salzburg, Austria. The participants "spent the month attending lectures and thinking about how World War II could have been avoided," Minnis said.

Al, right,  and his brother Arthur in 1983 (Arthur and his wife Edna still reside in Aztec.

This concept of avoiding conflict and war influenced Utton's life. After returning to the U.S. and practicing law for a couple of years, he became a professor.

Robert Emmet Clark, founder of the Natural Resources Journal at the University of New Mexico Law School, advised Utton to focus on water. Utton took Clark's advice and studied international water law. He published his first paper about the treaty on the Columbia River, which runs through Canada and the U.S.

When Utton became a professor at the UNM law school, he met Minnis, who led a class for first-year students on legal writing.

Each professor in the law school was required to mentor students. And although he had been teaching for years and had published various papers, Utton asked Minnis for advice on how he could best help his students.

Al Utton is pictured in an undated photo from 1953 after being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University.

"I was taken by his humility," Minnis said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

If you go

What: Discussion and book signing for "Al Utton -- Aztec Eagle: International Waters, Research, Diplomacy, and Friendship"

When: 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Aztec Museum, 125 N. Main Ave.

More info: Go