Navajo landowners protest Haaland’s visit to NM after new ban

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Some people on the Navajo Nation disagreed with a new rule that aims to limit oil and gas activity around Chaco Canyon for the next 20 years.

The change came from Washington, D.C., but former New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland is behind it in her role as secretary of the interior.

On Sunday, Haaland got a mixed reception in New Mexico when she wanted to hold an event she called a celebration.

Haaland had to quickly regroup and relocate after a group of Navajo landowners blocked the way to the sacred site. 

“The ancestors are here, and they are smiling down on us,” said Haaland said in a message of unity on Sunday. 

“We’ve known the collective power and actions since 1598. We know what we are able to achieve in 1680 by the organizing of the Pueblo Revolt. We know the powerful advocacy that led to the end of the infamous Burson Bill in the 1920s,” said Mark Mitchell, chairman of All Pueblo Council of Governors. 

But it was not as peaceful of a homecoming the former New Mexico congresswoman was hoping for. Navajo landowners blocked the way to the sacred site, and forced her to move to Albuquerque.

Janene Yazzie, a local Diné activist, says she spoke to some of the protestors who said they thought their land would be taken from them under this new drilling ban. 

“It was heartbreaking to see the fear and the uncertainty that the allotees were holding. I really felt for them, I felt their pain. We’re talking about people who have faced forced removal before,” said Janene Yazzie, a Southwest Regional Director of the Indian Collective. 

Haaland addressed the protest.

“We can disagree on policy, but we must be united in the protection of our children, our culture, our shared sacred spaces. That is the most important thing and that’s what I wanted to say,” said Haaland. 

Every speaker said the conservation efforts have been decades in the making, and those in attendance all view this as a win for Chaco Canyon. 

“This journey in defense of the place that makes us whole has been a journey to put Indigenous voices at the decision-making table and act on those voices,” Haaland said. “This decision upholds mine and President Biden’s commitment to prioritize tribal-led conservation and it does not end here.”

Yazzie shared why she believes Chaco Canyon should be preserved. 

“Chaco is the connection to almost all of our oral traditions, it’s connected to ceremonial knowledge,” said Yazzie. 

The site is held sacred for many Indigenous groups in New Mexico.

“It was a site of trade, it was a site of connection that connected everyone from the north to the pacific to South America. And the artifacts there tell that story, they share that lineage,” Yazzie said. 

KOB 4 also heard in a protest video chants of that being “Navajo land,” and they wanted the Pueblo people to leave.

Yazzie says what she saw was an attempt from outside entities to pit Pueblo and Diné people against each other. She says this has happened in the past with coal and uranium mining. 

Earlier this week, the Navajo Nation president and speaker say they stand with the landowners and are disappointed in Haaland’s decision. They say this change impacts a lot of people.

In a statement from the Office of the Speaker, it says thousands of allotment owners will see financial and economic losses. 

The president and speaker say allotment owners weren’t properly consulted about this drilling ban. They proposed a 5-mile radius, but they say they were ignored, and it became a 10-mile radius.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association released the following statement about the announcement:

“Department of the Interior officials failed to talk with and recognize the voices of the Navajo Nation in the immediate vicinity of Chaco who are affected the most by the Interior Secretary’s announcement about the 10-mile boundary imposed around Chaco Canyon. The DOI failed to recognize that the Navajo Nation recently voted to reject any buffer around the Chaco Culture National Historical Park after they withdrew its previous five-mile buffer resolution when the DOI failed to consider the tribe’s compromise alternative to the ten-mile buffer. 

The DOI’s plan to withdraw 351,000 acres from oil and natural gas leasing will cost Navajo members with allotted property rights an estimated $194 million over the next 20 years.

While the “no leasing” buffer around the Chaco Cultural National Historic Park excepts Navajo allotments, the practical effect of withdrawing federal minerals from oil and gas development extends to allottee minerals that are checkerboarded with the federal minerals. The DOI continues to ignore that modern techniques consist of horizontal rather than vertical drilling for mineral development. Without the ability to include federal minerals in drilling blocks, the Navajo Allotments will not be able to be economically developed. These lands consist of remote uninhabited areas that lack roads and any type of infrastructure such as water, power lines or pipelines. It is impossible to access the Navajo allotments without crossing federal minerals, which requires, at the very least, the issuance of BLM Rights of Way.

The median annual income of a Navajo allottee is approximately $20,000; the average annual royalty revenue from oil and gas production is an additional $28,000.

This group feels their rights are being violated because it is impossible to develop their checker-boarded mineral allotments without federal leases and Rights-of-Way.”