Navajo leaders continue to urge consultation in proposed Chaco Canyon protections
Navajo Nation lawmakers continue to voice their concerns over a U.S. Interior Department plan to ban new oil and gas drilling near Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. The federal proposal seeks to protect lands surrounding one of the nation’s most important Indigenous sites.
Members of the Navajo Nation Council say there’s been a lack of consultation over the proposal to ban new leases within 10 miles of Chaco Canyon for 20 years. Members of the Resources and Development Committee recently met with officials from the Farmington Bureau of Land Management field office and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
about the plan, that Navajo leaders say has the potential to negatively impact thousands of tribal members.
Navajo officials say nearly 5,462 residents who lease their land to oil and gas companies currently split an average of about $6.2 million in annual income, but that the proposed ban could affect hundreds more unleased allotments. Navajo officials have instead proposed a smaller 5-mile buffer around Chaco.
“The Biden Administration and Interior Department bypassed previous requests to Congress for field hearings and for federal officials to hear directly from our Navajo families residing in the Chaco Canyon region,” said committee Chairman and Delegate Rickie Nez in a press release.
The Interior Department’s proposal would apply to more than 350,000 acres on the Navajo Nation. Tribal members, conservationists and others say oil and gas drilling has been encroaching on Chaco’s borders for years.
An Interior spokesperson says the agency is consulting with the Navajo Nation and other tribes, and that federal officials met with allottees last summer.
“Now is the time to consider more enduring protections for the living landscape that is Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural legacy to future generations," said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in the plan's announcement in November. "I value and appreciate the many Tribal leaders, elected officials, and stakeholders who have persisted in their work to conserve this special area.”
Chaco Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest Indigenous areas in the U.S.
Public commentsfor the plan can be submitted through April 6.