Tribal Leaders Host Second Historic Summit to Support the Protection of the Greater Chaco Landscape

Published March 23, 2019

Tribal Leaders from All Pueblo Council of Governors and Navajo Nation meet with state and federal leaders to discuss long-term protection of Greater Chaco Landscape

ACOMA PUEBLO, N.M. — The All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) and the Navajo Nation met in a historic summit for the third time in the existence of APCG to reaffirm mutual commitment to protect sacred sites in the Greater Chaco Canyon region.

“The Greater Chaco region remains a vital part of Pueblo culture and is a direct connection to our ancestors,” said All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman Edward Paul Torres, who was at the convening.

“Our partnership with the Navajo Nation should stand as a testament to the importance of this sacred landscape. Chaco Canyon is, and always will be, a part of who we all are. Today, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, in consultation with the Navajo Nation, proudly reaffirms our support for the reintroduction of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act. We call on our Congressional delegation, state legislature, and Governor to support its passage as well.”

The meeting was held at the Acoma Pueblo, the oldest continually inhabited community in North America. The meeting is the third between these 21 sovereign Tribes to discuss pushing for protections for the Greater Chaco landscape in the wake of ongoing oil and gas development. In attendance were federal and state agencies whose actions or land management plans may affect Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, and traditional cultural properties and sacred sites in the Greater Chaco area.

“We join our Pueblo neighbors in supporting the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act, which will protect the area from any mineral development on Federal lands and help preserve the dwellings and sacred objects. We recognize how important this place is to Indian nations including the Navajo as stories of Chaco and the surrounding area are deeply embedded in our way of life. I thank Senator Tom Udall and New Mexico’s congressional delegation, state representatives, and Pueblo leadership for their efforts to protect the Chaco area so that our children may learn of the unique history and culture of this sacred place.” – Jonathan Nez, Navajo Nation President

Today’s meeting comes as Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced their intention to re-introduce legislation that would withdraw federal mineral estate from the Greater Chaco Core Protection Zone from additional energy development that would mar the region’s cultural sites and landscape. The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2018 was previously introduced by Senators Udall and Heinrich. The legislation has been developed in collaboration with Pueblo and Navajo nations and the joint tribal meeting is a significant moment in the long history of Chaco Canyon. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small, Secretary of Indian Affairs Lynn Trujillo, State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia-Richard and many other tribal leaders spoke to lend their support to the effort. Together, the 20 Pueblos of APCG, the Navajo Nation, and the State of New Mexico stand poised – in a first of a kind tri-governmental statement – to support the legislation and protections it will provide.

More than 90 percent of public lands within the area are already leased for oil and gas drilling, and recently there have been several incidents that have made it clear that the Greater Chaco Canyon area continues to be threatened. For example, last year, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke deferred the oil and gas sale near Chaco Canyon, but a federal judge reversed his previous decision that oil and gas development near the historic site violated federal law.   And just this winter, after immense pressure from diverse stakeholders, BLM reversed course for a third time on a lease sale within the Greater Chaco area. The BLM is currently preparing a Resource Management Plan amendment that will shape future development in northwest New Mexico, and Tribes are anxiously awaiting its release.  Pueblo and Navajo leaders have consistently called on the agency to protect the core protection zone around Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Governor Michael Chavarria of the Santa Clara Pueblo added, “Until this area is permanently protected, we are living in a state of uncertainty and doubt as the BLM prepares its plan amendment. Given the tumultuous track record from this administration and the legal system, I am urging Congress to follow our delegation’s lead and pass legislation to permanently protect Greater Chaco Canyon.”

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