Chaco Canyon protections are personal for pueblo leaders

U.S. Home Secretary Deb Haaland is visiting New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historic Park on Monday to discuss her agency’s pursuit of a drilling ban on federal lands surrounding the park. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

For US Home Secretary Deb Haaland, Chaco Canyon is not a collection of ancient ruins, but a living landscape.

At a rally of indigenous leaders and elected officials at the Chaco Culture National Historic Park on Monday, Haaland said federal land management should reflect the region’s “shared heritage” values.

“It is not hard to imagine, centuries ago, children running through open space, people walking in and out of doors, singing their crops or preparing food for the seasons to come,” he said. Haaland said. “An active and prosperous community. “

The event in northwestern New Mexico came a week after the Home Office announced a two-year hiatus from new leasing of oil and natural gas on federal lands within a 10-minute radius. miles from the park as the agency considers a 20-year ban on those lands.

Haaland, from Laguna Pueblo, said the government has a responsibility to take care of natural resources like the Chacoan-Pueblo people who inhabited the area centuries ago.

“They used the water wisely, they grew their food sustainably, they looked to the stars for planting and harvesting,” she said. “They knew we only had one planet. Much like our ancestors, the earth gives us everything we need to meet our needs and we must take care of it. “

Many tribes and pueblos in the southwest trace their ancestors back to the Chaco region.

But some of those ties have weakened over time, said Carleton Bowekaty, lieutenant governor of Zuni Pueblo.

Bowekaty said he and his children once felt disconnected from their Pueblo languages ​​and traditions. Visiting the Chaco sites helped her family relearn these traditions.

“This is why Chaco is so important to me personally, and why it is important to the pueblos, because he allows us to exist in the past and make our way in the present, and that will allow our children to ‘have a future,’ Bowekaty mentioned.

The coalition of tribal chiefs recognized the importance of Haaland’s appointment as an Indigenous federal official managing lands once cared for by their ancestors.

Acoma Pueblo Governor Brian Vallo said the inside decision to continue with the minerals withdrawal was an “answer to prayers.”

“Last week’s announcement confirms our deep reverence for this place,” Vallo said.

Manifestation of the buffer zone

Even as officials gathered near the park’s visitor center to celebrate the Home Office’s proposal, a small group of Navajo beneficiaries protested outside the park’s boundaries.

The group has placed signs with phrases such as “the protection of the Chaco is already in place” and “the buffer zone violates the rights of beneficiaries” along the bumpy road to the park.

Domestic data shows the 10-mile buffer zone has more than 50 leased allotments that generate $ 6.2 million in oil and gas royalties annually for approximately 5,500 Navajo residents.

On Monday, Navajo Nation beneficiaries placed signs near the Chaco Culture National Historic Park to protest a proposed ban on oil and gas rentals on federal lands surrounding the park. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

Jessie Valdez is a Navajo beneficiary from Nageezi, about 40 miles from the park. She said she was “frustrated” by Home Affairs plans and felt that some recipients were being left out of a decision “which could really affect our livelihoods”.

“It’s our only source of income,” Valdez said. “This is our land and they should hear our voice.

The lands surrounding the Chacoan-Puebloan sites are a chessboard of different owners and managers.

The Biden administration’s proposal would not affect existing leases, individual tribal attributions, or minerals owned by private, state or tribal entities.

But residents such as Valdez have said a federal ban would deter any regional oil and gas production that supports beneficiaries with monthly royalty checks.

The Council of the Navajo Nation passed a resolution in 2020 supporting a 5-mile buffer zone instead of the 10-mile radius accepted by Interior and Congressional bills.

Yet other indigenous leaders have said the need for careful land management extends beyond a clear line of demarcation drawn around major sites in the Chacoan.

Navajo beneficiary Daniel Tso was also the sole Navajo advisor at Monday’s event.

The chair of the health, education and social services committee has long advocated for guarantees for the great landscape of the Chaco, including the far eastern parts of the reserve he represents.

Tso warned that uncontrolled oil and gas activity could pollute natural resources and cause health problems for local communities.

“(The Navajo people) have a strong connection to the land,” Tso said. “Yes, we want the landscape to be protected. We want better air quality for the region. We want to protect the water.

U.S. lawmakers on the Natural Resources Committee met with Navajo beneficiaries when Haaland was a member of the House.

Home Office Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland also met with residents to learn more about their concerns at the Chaco.

Haaland referred to the meetings and said she would continue to “make sure all voices are heard”.

The Bureau of Land Management will initiate a 60-day public comment period once the proposed withdrawal is published in the federal registry.

The agency also said it would have formal consultations with the tribes on the proposal.

“This process did not happen overnight,” Haaland said. “These conversations have been going on for decades. … I am convinced that the 10 mile buffer zone does not encroach on any (recipient) land.

U.S. Home Secretary Deb Haaland speaks with Laguna Pueblo Governor Martin Kowemy on Monday at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. The Biden administration is suspending new leasing of oil and gas in a 10-mile buffer zone of federal land surrounding the park. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

Permanent protection invoices

A patchwork of regulations is currently in place to govern the leasing of oil and gas around the Chaco.

The New Mexico state land office has a moratorium on new oil and gas activity in a 12-mile buffer zone of state trust land around the UNESCO World Heritage site.

A 2020 Congressional Appropriation Bill suspended new leases on federal lands for a year.

For several years, the New Mexico congressional delegation has proposed legislation permanently banning regional drilling in the federal buffer zone.

United States Representative Teresa Leger Fernández, whose district includes the Chaco, is one of the sponsors of the House bill that would make the withdrawal of minerals permanent.

“For too long … the federal government has prioritized the extraction of natural resources over the protection of our environment, over the protection of our sacred sites,” said the Democrat.

Interior will also begin a broader assessment of the Grand Chaco landscape in addition to the proposed mineral removal.

The effort, which Haaland has dubbed “Honoring the Chaco”, will indicate how the government “is managing this landscape for the good of all.”

Pueblo leaders said the initiative marks a shift in the way Indigenous voices are represented in federal land and water decisions.

“Chaco Canyon is a vital part of who we are as the Pueblo people,” said Martin Kowemy, Governor of Laguna Pueblo. “Secretary Haaland, welcome home. “

Theresa Davis is a member of the Report for America body covering Water and the Environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

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