Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Haaland meets with tribes and government leaders at Chaco | Local News

Slabs of sunburned stone that looked laid together in majestic formations towered over the first secretary of the US Indigenous Department of the Interior, tribal leaders and elected officials who gathered Monday to celebrate the impending protection of this ancient landscape.

Three days before Thanksgiving, the allies of President Joe Biden and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland thanked the government for enforcing the government’s ban on oil and gas leasing in a 10-mile zone around Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, spoke out in favor of giving her the chance to protect a region that is close to her heart.

“This is a living landscape,” said Haaland. “You can feel it in the sun, the clouds and the wind. When I look at the sky and the table mountains, I am grateful that the pueblos and the Navajo nation and all communities can share this landscape together. “

Tribal leaders said they were grateful that fossil fuel activity on states within that zone could be halted for up to 20 years. Thankful that the heads of state and government are finally listening to them and taking their concerns into account. Thankfully, an area that is deeply embedded in their history and culture – which they consider sacred – has a great chance of being preserved.

“For many, many years, a choir of pueblos and tribes has called for more protection for Chaco Canyon and the greater Chaco region,” said Acoma Pueblo Governor Brian Vallo. “Our right to protect the holy place is rooted in what our elders teach us and what we know as the descendants of those who have settled here.”

Vallo and others said that Chaco was a nexus for the different tribes, which is why it is special to them. They said it was important to keep it for generations to come.

“This is our sacred covenant for those who are still to be born,” said Vallo.

Absent were opponents of efforts to create the 10-mile zone and ban state oil and gas leasing within the buffer for 20 years. That includes industrial companies and some Navajo leaders who say such a severe restriction on oil and gas in the region will stifle a resource for a people struggling with poverty and unemployment.

Some Navajo landowners who are drilling for oil on their plots, called allotees, are against the restrictions even though the restrictions would not directly apply to their land. They fear that if drill-less federal plots are wedged against theirs, the value of their properties could decline.

In an email, the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association spokesman said he would like to see Haaland break up with their supporters and talk to other people.

“We hope the secretary will dedicate some of her time in New Mexico to engaging with the local stakeholders and community members who will be most affected by this policy,” wrote spokesman Robert McEntyre. “We are confident that we can protect the Chaco for future generations and at the same time develop energy resources safely and responsibly, as we have been doing in this region for over 100 years.”

However, most of the speakers at the event said the development free zone is necessary to protect the environment, human health and cultural history.

Among them was Daniel Tso, a delegate from the Navajo Nation Council who chairs the Committee on Health, Education and Human Services.

Tso noted that he was the only delegate from the Navajo Council present. He also said he was an associate in support of the proposed restrictions.

“We want the landscape to be protected, we want better air quality for the area, we want to protect the aquifer,” said Tso. “The untouched landscape holds a lot of sanctity. It brings calm. And it’s a good spiritual strength. “

Tso said last year’s US House of Representatives bill to protect the Chaco did not go far enough to protect the landscape from oil development. This bill has stalled in the Senate.

US MP Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democrat whose district includes the area, said she was working with Senator Ben Ray Luján and other delegates to draft a new version of the Chaco Protection Act.

“We will need this law to ensure that the protective measures we are considering today are permanent and cannot be reversed by any future government,” said Leger Fernandez.

Quoting Luján, she said, “The Chaco Protection protects New Mexico.”

Haaland said they should model their administration of Chaco after their Native American ancestors, who were water wise and who grew their food sustainably, knowing there was only one planet.

The “Power of Chaco” extends beyond the park’s boundaries and even beyond the proposed 10-mile zone, she said. The Home Office is reviewing a broader protection plan and will seek public comment in the coming months, she added.

“I call the process ‘Honoring Chaco’ because it is our commitment to one another and to the future,” she said.

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