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Tribes and archaeologists want to protect Chaco region

The Pueblo Bonito ruins at Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico are part of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs are amending a resource management plan for oil and gas leasing on federal land in northwest New Mexico, even as Native American tribes, archaeologists and lawmakers ask for more time and tribal input.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham weighed in on the draft plan last week.

“I am deeply concerned that the RMPA/EIS does not adequately address the impacts of the proposed development on either air quality or tribal cultural resources and lacks essential alternatives,” Lujan Grisham wrote in comments to the agencies. “These flaws are in part the result of inadequate tribal consultation, an inadequate public input process, and an incomplete cultural resources survey.”

Several tribes and pueblos in New Mexico and Arizona claim the Chaco region as their ancestral homeland.

“Leaving Chaco didn’t mean that we didn’t maintain connection,” said Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo. “These (places) are critical to the continuance of Acoma culture, are critical to the continuance of pueblo culture in New Mexico.”

Legislation to permanently install a 10-mile zone around Chaco Culture National Historical Park prohibiting oil and gas leasing stalled in the U.S. Senate last year.

Archaeologist Paul Reed worked with Acoma Pueblo this summer to identify sites in the buffer zone and has planned a similar project with Zuni Pueblo.

“We absolutely have been missing the pueblo voices,” Reed said. “I hope we can continue to have archaeologists like me step out of the way and elevate the voices of the people whose ancestors created Chaco. We need oil and gas, (but) we don’t need oil and gas near special places.” In December 2019, Congress appropriated $1 million for Chaco cultural resource studies. But U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland said the Interior Department has yet to release that funding to the Navajo Nation or to pueblos.

“The protection of Chaco Canyon should not be up for debate, but President Trump’s energy dominance agenda has put it in danger,” Haaland said.

Because of the pandemic, Interior extended the comment period on the draft plan and proceeded with virtual public meetings.

Last week the Navajo Nation Council passed an emergency resolution asking that the planning process be suspended, citing limited internet access and phone service for many Native American residents in the greater Chaco region.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

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