Native American leaders push for protection of Chaco region

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Native American leaders said Tuesday they were excited about a series of meetings this week with land managers as the Biden administration considers banning new oil and gas development on hundreds of square miles of land federal in northwestern New Mexico that several tribes consider sacred.

Senior All Pueblo Board of Governors officials said in a virtual briefing that they would reiterate their support for the proposal during tribal consultations. The meetings are part of public outreach led by the US Department of the Interior as it considers the removal of nearly 550 square miles (1,425 square kilometers) around the Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a native of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, cited the cultural significance of the area surrounding the national park when she first proposed the 20-year setback during a visit in November. She said many southwestern tribes, including her own, had a connection to the area.

Randall Vicente, the governor of Acoma Pueblo, said the tribes were ready to band together to ensure more permanent protections were enacted for lands outside the park boundaries.

He said the remains of stone dwellings, ceremonial kivas, potsherds, petroglyphs, shrines and other cultural resources that dot the high desert around Chaco Canyon were left there by the ancestors of the people. pueblo today.

“Together, this region is an irreplaceable, sacred and interconnected landscape unlike any other. We remain connected to these resources,” he said, describing them as “the footprints and fingerprints of our ancestors. “.

A World Heritage Site, Chaco Park is considered the center of what was once a hub of indigenous civilization.

The Navajo Nation is among Native American tribes supporting increased protections, but senior tribal officials have called for a smaller area around the Chaco to be set aside to limit the economic impact on families who depend on income from renting out oil and gas.

In a nod to Navajo concerns, pueblo leaders said the removal would not affect development on land overseen by the Navajo Nation or individual Navajo landowners. However, the grantees argued that removing the federal lands from the council would leave them landlocked and limit oil companies’ interest in leasing their land.

Pueblo leaders said Tuesday that their tribes continue to work on an ethnographic study that they hope will provide federal managers with more information about the cultural resources of northwest New Mexico.

Ben Chavarria, Santa Clara Pueblo Historic Preservation Officer, said the Chaco influence is still visible today in the governance systems, dances, songs, prayers and other customs of the pueblos.

Describing its essence as independent and living, he said the greater Chaco region is “an area of ​​such immense cultural and traditional significance to the pueblo that it cannot be conveyed in words.”

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