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Tribal nations push Chaco protection

This year, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, a body composed of 19 sovereign Pueblo nations, hosted a historic summit between the Pueblo governors and the president and vice-president of the Navajo Nation to focus attention on how all tribal nations in the Southwest can work together to protect sacred sites in the Greater Chaco Canyon region.

In the 400-year history of the council, this is the first time the Navajo Nation was represented. This historic meeting, held at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, was convened to facilitate further government-to-government consultation with federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs and National Park Service, over actions or management plans that may affect Chaco Canyon, traditional cultural properties and sacred sites in the Greater Chaco landscape.

Exactly 110 years ago, in 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt created the 36,000 acre Chaco Culture National Historical Park, ensuring that many of the region’s most significant and awe-inspiring ancient ruins were protected for generations to come. While protection of this park unit was a very important first step, thousands of archaeological sites lie outside the park throughout the San Juan Basin. Some of these sites are over 12,000 years old.

This area was historically the center of Puebloan culture and economic life. Over many generations our people built great houses, astronomical observation sites and ceremonial kivas across the Four Corners region. These sites continue to be places of prayer, pilgrimage and a living connection to our ancestors. Our water, our lands, our culture and our livelihoods depend upon this landscape. All of these things are threatened as industrial development expands in the San Juan Basin.

As we celebrate the anniversary of Chaco Park, we call on the BLM to increase protections for the Greater Chaco Canyon. Most of this area is publicly owned land managed by the BLM. Yet the BLM has already leased 90 percent of the area to oil and gas drilling. We, as representatives of the Pueblo and Navajo people, are calling on the agency to protect what’s left, including areas where leased land hasn’t been developed yet. Around 16,000 oil and gas wells pepper our ancestral landscape, as do more than 15,000 miles of industrial access roads.

We understand that much of Greater Chaco has already been leased and developed and that future drilling in the region is virtually certain to continue. But we need public engagement to make our voices heard as the BLM plans for future management of lands in the Greater Chaco Region. As the BLM updates its land-use plan, known as a Resource Management Plan, we have the best opportunity in many years for the BLM to acknowledge the significance of the Greater Chaco landscape by taking bold steps to protect the area from future oil and gas development. We urge the BLM in their RMP process to protect a larger percentage of the lands contained in Greater Chaco.

We do not oppose energy development as a whole – it has positively benefited many communities in New Mexico. We simply believe it is time to recognize that the BLM needs to balance energy and development needs with protecting the few areas of our cultural landscape that remain intact and undeveloped.

Our culture, both past and present, is inextricably linked to our land, including those managed by the BLM. We continue to have serious concerns about the impacts incurred by oil and gas development and fear that decisions made by the BLM may further facilitate development in areas that are more valuable to us when left undeveloped.

As we celebrate the 110th anniversary of Chaco Canyon Park, join us in calling on the BLM to create a new chapter of the ancient Chaco story by setting our sacred sites off-limits to development.

Our Navajo and Pueblo communities look forward to working together on this and other issues in the future to ensure our ancestral homelands are protected for future generations.

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