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Diné fight against oil, gas injustice

The setting sun highlights Shiprock, a pumpjack and the San Juan Generating Station, near Farmington. (Dave Watson/The Daily Times)

The setting sun highlights Shiprock, a pumpjack and the San Juan Generating Station, near Farmington. (Dave Watson/The Daily Times)

It is difficult to overstate the tragedy of living and stewarding a place for centuries and then having generations of history and culture sacrificed by a government for the sake of a destructive industry and corporate polluters.

The toxic legacy of the oil and gas industry has been heartbreaking for communities across this country, but especially Indigenous Nations who have suffered some of the worst health and lifelong impacts of oil extraction on our lands. As a leader in the Diné (Navajo) community, I have seen cancers, kidney failure and respiratory diseases devastate our people.

When we were told drilling and fracking would be done safely, our sacred sites were destroyed. When we were assured the oil and gas sites would be remediated, corporations went bankrupt and left the lands demolished and our people paying the price.

We have heard promises from the government many times that these concerns would be addressed, and suffered when they were broken. These lands have been in our care since time immemorial; the profit-driven excessive extraction that has continued for decades is a grave injustice.

We cannot afford half steps or empty words any longer; we need to ban all destructive drilling and fracking when it threatens our livelihoods, homelands and environment.

We welcome the new Biden administration’s executive action that pauses new oil and gas leases, and we hope to see this temporary relief become permanent. That should include blocking new fossil fuel and mining leases in places that are sacred and integral to the health and preservation of our lands and people. The Biden administration must see tribal nations as partners, prioritize co-management of lands, and greatly improve consultation and transparency that was obsolete under the previous administration.

In 2019, Diné people led the fight against the Trump administration’s attack on sacred lands – including Chaco Canyon that safeguards near one million cultural and archaeological sites – from oil and gas drilling. The Trump administration did not fully consider harm to tribal nations, the environment or our health. More pollution from fracking would add excess poison to our air and water – harms that have plagued our communities for too long. When the Bureau of Land Management opened new oil and gas lease sales, in many cases we were never consulted by the federal government. It was a disgraceful, immoral lack of leadership. The Biden administration has a chance and must do better.

The Biden administration should start by evaluating the true costs of fossil-fuel dependence that has harmed so many communities, and how short-term profits have not accounted for the multigenerational effects on health, lands and the preservation of sacred places. We need a better vision for lands – one that centers protection, consultation and the promise of a safer future. We hope to work with soon-to-be Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in achieving these goals and forging a path forward that begins to correct decades of injustices.

The Diné people can no longer withstand the oil and gas industry’s persistent attacks on our health and our homelands. We must break the chain of impacts that have harmed our ancestors and will harm the generations after us. We wish to finally turn the page on the destruction of drilling and fracking on Indigenious and federal lands, and call on the Biden administration as partners in banning these dangerous practices once and for all.

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