Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico was occupied by ancestors of today's Pueblo tribes. The Navajo Nation also has ties to the site. Photo: Andrew Kearns
Environment | National | Politics

Pueblo tribes seek ban on energy development on ancestral land in New Mexico

Pueblo tribes are calling on the Trump administration to impose a temporary ban on energy development near Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors, which represents 20 Pueblo tribes in New Mexico and Texas, said oil and gas drilling must be put on hold pending further study of the environmentally and culturally sensitive region. Development threatens sacred sites, ancestral villages and other places that remain important to their communities.

"Our ancestors still reside in this place and these new permits and leases demonstrate a complete lack of respect for our sovereign tribal nations. We will use every tool at our disposal to fight these attacks on our heritage,” said Edward Paul Torres, who serves as chairman of the All Pueblo Council as well as governor of the Pueblo of Isleta.

A resolution approved by the tribes last week cites the need for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management to identify places that would be affected by development. The two agencies are in fact working on a potential moratorium that would apply to a 10-mile radius of Chaco. They are also collaborating on archaeological and ethnographic studies in the region.

But that work, which was initiated toward the end of the Obama administration, isn't expected to be complete until next year at the earliest, the resolution warns. Yet the BLM is moving forward with a sale of leases in areas around Chaco, three lawmakers from the state said in a letter to Secretary Ryan Zinke, the leader of the Department of the Interior.

"This action would not only violate the previous commitment of the BLM and BIA, but the spirit of the ongoing joint public process which these agencies are conducting with the community," the three Democrats told Zinke in the September 6 letter.

The Pueblo tribes aren't the only ones concerned either. Leaders of the Navajo Nation are especially worried about hydraulic fracturing, an energy processing technique commonly known as fracking, and its impacts on ancestral sites and water resources in and around Chaco.

“We are descendants from the Chaco Canyon area," President Russell Begaye said earlier this year when the BLM and the BIA came to the region to ask tribes for input. "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."

The BLM has not made any decisions about the upcoming lease sale. But President Donald Trump has vowed to expand development on federal lands and the agency has been eagerly touting the results of other lease sales as "promoting America’s Energy independence."

Comments on a draft environmental assessment affecting drilling in the Chaco region are being accepted through October 20. More information, including detailed maps, can be found on the BLM website under "March 8, 2018 Lease Sale."