Guest Column: Navajo women's long fight for Chaco

As a member of the Navajo Nation, Asdzaani nishlóó, as a resilient woman, I am on the front lines of the fight to protect Mother Earth, Nihoosdzaan Nihima. Every day, polluting industries seeking to extract resources from these lands bring my ancestral home in New Mexico under threat. They threaten our community in Sanostee, New Mexico from helium mining and the few remaining cultural resources in the Greater Chaco region.

From oil and gas drilling to uranium mining, my Diné people are far too familiar with what it means to have our homelands wrecked by corporate interests for a quick profit. With the Department of the Interior proposing to prevent oil and gas leasing on federal lands within ten miles of Chaco Canyon for the next 20 years we finally have hope that the tireless efforts of the women who’ve fought on behalf of the Diné people for generations, including to protect the Chaco landscape from harmful drilling, will be honored.

In recognition of how the health and well-being of community members in northwestern New Mexico have historically taken a backseat to oil and gas industry profits, President Biden’s administration has also ordered a landscape-level assessment of oil and gas development in the broader region around Chaco. Our communities need these protections urgently. Oil and gas CEOs are taking advantage of a crisis to push for more permitting and drilling while families are hurting. More leasing and drilling won’t do anything to help New Mexicans at the pump and 90 percent of federal lands surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park have already been leased for drilling. Enough is enough. I urge the Biden administration and our Diné leaders to protect Chaco and our communities in the broader region that have suffered for too long.

While we still have a long way to go, my community needs the Biden administration to keep moving this process forward, prioritizing frontline communities in oil and gas areas. I carry on in the long tradition of fierce women like Asdzáá Yistł'é, Annie Dodge Wauneka, and the women who protected our people during the long walk to Hweeldi and when we returned. Their voices and lives mattered, just as our voices and lives matter. It is time to learn from their legacy, carry forth their knowledge, and embody their leadership by protecting and caring for our people.

The accomplishments of women across the world and the accomplishments of Indigenous women go further than one month of the year; our work extends and embraces future generations of women leaders, innovators, and warriors. The call to protect what we love and hold sacred is one we will never ignore.

Elouise Brown

Editor's Note: this column has been condensed and shortened

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