ALBUQUERQUE – On Feb. 23, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez joined forces with the All Pueblo Council of Governors against fracking and horizontal drilling in the Chaco Canyon region.
“We are descendants from the Chaco Canyon area,” Begaye said. “We are connected to these lands spiritually. The voices of our ancestors live in this area and any disturbance to this area is culturally and morally insensitive.”
Whether or not tribal leaders are appointed or voted into office, they have the responsibility to protect tribal nations, resources and sacred sites, he said.
The greater Chaco landscape, as designated by the Bureau of Land Management, includes the Chaco Culture National Historical Park and numerous sites along the Great North Road, a Chacoan road north of the national historical park. For the Navajo Nation, these Chacoan roads are sacred sites and traditional cultural property and they are sacred for other tribes, as well.
The Navajo people are descendants of the Anasazi from the Chaco Canyon region, Begaye said.
Today, these sacred lands rich with archaeological resources are at risk of the negative impacts related to drilling and fracking, according to Begaye and Nez.
Nez said the Navajo people carry the overwhelming burden of the uranium mining legacy: contaminated water sources, former uranium miners and their families dying from terminal illnesses, lack of cleanup at more than 500 abandoned uranium mines and lack of adequate compensation from the federal government and private mining industry.
His fear is that fracking will be another environmental issue that future generations of Navajos will have to clean up.
“Studies show that fracking is contaminating our water,” Nez said. “Our people know that water is life and we can ill afford to contaminate these water sources in the name of oil.”
Nez noted that when fracking occurs and causes underground explosions, the impacts can be vast.
The Navajo Nation also supports House Memorial 70, sponsored by Rep. Derrick L. Lente (D-Dist. 65). The bill reaffirms New Mexico’s commitment to protecting and preserving tribal, cultural and historical sites and resources in the Chaco Canyon area.
Lente is requesting proper government-to-government consultation from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs for Chaco Canyon.
“We will continue to advocate and lobby for the protection of the Chaco Canyon area,” Begaye said.
A letter to the BLM from Begaye and Nez stated concerns and impacts of increased drilling near Chaco Cultural National Historic Park.
“Increased surface activities from drilling is interrupting the daily lives of the Navajo people who live near Chaco Canyon,” they said. “The communities include Counselor, Nageezi, Torreon and Ojo Encino.”
“We have to protect our land, water and air quality; many of our relatives are getting sick. At the grassroots level, we are linking up with other environmental groups to fight for proper tribal consultation,” said Samuel Sage from Counselor, New Mexico.
The meeting with the Pueblo Council was the first of its kind. Begaye and Nez said they look forward to continuing relations with the 19 N.M. Pueblos.
“This is a historic meeting between sovereign Pueblo governments and the sovereign Navajo Nation government,” said Chairman E. Paul Torres. “I’m pleased that President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez joined with us to talk about how to protect sacred sites including Chaco Canyon. We look forward to more conversations with the Navajo Nation about how we can work together as native people.”
Chaco Canyon is one of three United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Sites in New Mexico.
“I am encouraged to hear that the All Pueblo Council of Governors and Navajo Nation are engaging in a high-level dialogue regarding future oil and gas development near Chaco Culture National Historical Park,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
Udall said by working together stakeholders can better protect areas of cultural significance in the Chacoan landscape in a responsible manner.
Before concluding the meeting, a work group was created to address fracking within the Chaco Canyon area. Gov. Mark Mitchell, of Tesuque Pueblo, was chosen to lead the group, which will include the Navajo Nation.
HM 70 is scheduled for the House State Government, Indian & Veterans Affairs Committee Feb. 28.
The Pueblo Council is comprised of one tribal leader or representative from all 19 Pueblos of New Mexico and one Pueblo from Texas.