The peace that surrounded Chaco Canyon was broken only by the sound of a crow’s wings as it circled overhead.
Then a group of leaders from several Native American tribes began to speak, their voices echoing through the sandstone cliffs nearby.
Indigenous leaders of the Hopi tribe in Arizona and many New Mexico Puebloans were grateful that the federal government was taking more meaningful steps toward sustainable protection for cultural resources in northwestern New Mexico.
He spoke of a deep connection to the valley – the heart of Chaco Culture National Historic Park – and the importance of ensuring that oil and gas development beyond the park’s boundaries does not break that tie for future generations.
After fighting for years with several presidential administrations, they are hopeful the needle is moving now that one of them – US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland – holds the reins of the federal agency that oversees energy development and tribal affairs.
Haaland, who hails from Laguna Pueblo and is the first Native American to lead a cabinet agency, joined tribal leaders in Chaco this week to celebrate the start of a process aimed at expanding the area within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of the park. To withdraw federal land holdings within. The limit puts the region outside the limits of oil and gas leasing for 20 years.
New leases on federal lands in the area will be put on hold for the next two years while a return proposal is considered.
Hollande is also committed to taking a comprehensive look at how federal lands across the region can be better managed while taking into account environmental impacts and cultural conservation.
“It’s a good day – a beautiful day our father Suraj has given us. The producer laid the foundation for today,” Hopi vice chairman Clark Tenkhongwa said on Monday.
center of indigenous civilization
A World Heritage Site, Chaco is considered the center of what was once an indigenous civilization, with many tribes from the southwest tracing their roots to the high desert outposts.
Within the park, steep stone walls rise from the bottom of the canyon, some perfectly aligned with the seasonal movements of the Sun and Moon. Circular underground rooms called kiwas have been cut into the desert floor, and archaeologists have found evidence of great roads that extend into what is now New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado.
Visitors often marvel at the architectural prowess of Chaco’s early residents. But for many indigenous peoples in the Southwest, Chaco Canyon has a more esoteric significance.
The Hopi call it “Yupkoywi”, which translates simply as the way to the other side of the mountains.
“Whose land do we all occupy? We walk the Creator’s Land. That’s what we were told in the beginning—at the bottom of the Grand Canyon,” Tenkhongwa said. “Many of us have that connection. Many of us can relate to how important the Grand Canyon is. Ask Zuni, Laguna, Acoma. They made their journey across the region from there. We know the importance of these areas.”
source of power
Pueblo leaders also talked about the areas near the Zuni Pueblo in western New Mexico and the Bear Ears National Monument in Utah that are associated with the Chaco civilization.
Laguna Governor Martin Covemi Jr. said the Chacos are an important part of their people.
“Pueblo people can all relate through song, prayer and pilgrimage,” he said. “Now more than ever, ties with the identities of our people are a source of strength in difficult times. We must ensure that these connections do not break, but remain intact for generations to come.”
Acoma Pueblo Governor Brian Vallow said that the beliefs, songs, ceremonies and other traditions that have defined generations of the Pueblo people originated in Chaco.
“The roots of our fight to protect this holy place are taught by our elders and what we know as descendants of the settlers,” said Valo. “It is our responsibility – our connection to this sacred place, to maintain our deep obligation and protective leadership.”
Both the Obama and Trump administrations blocked leases adjacent to the park through agency actions, but some tribesmen, archaeologists and environmentalists are pushing for permanent protection.
Congress is pending legislation, but there has been disagreement over how large the buffer should be.
The Navajo Nation oversees most of the land that makes up the jurisdictional checkpoint surrounding the national park. Some parts belong to individual Navajo who were allotted land generations ago by the federal government.
Navajo leaders have supported preserving parts of the area, but have said that individual allottees lose a significant income source if the land is taken out of development limits. At stake are millions of dollars in royalties for tribal members struggling with poverty and high unemployment rates.
Hollande’s agency has vowed to consult with the tribes over the next two years as proposals for withdrawal are considered, but top Navajo leaders suggest they are being ignored. Notably absent from Monday’s celebration were the supremely elected leaders of the tribe’s legislative and executive branches.
Navajo Nation Council representative Daniel Tso has been a minority within the tribal government who has been speaking out against development in the region. He said communities east of the Chacko are “under siege” from increased drilling.
“Yes, we want the landscape to be protected, we want to have better air quality, we want to protect the aquifer, we want to protect the sacred,” he said. “The disturbed landscape carries a lot of purity. It brings peace of mind, it brings a steady heart and it gives good spiritual strength.”
No matter which side they are on, many Navajo feel that their voices are not being heard.
Haaland invited everyone on Monday to attend a hearing session that will be held as part of the process, which he has dubbed “Chacko’s honour.”
Environmentalists say the region is a prime example of the problems of tribal counseling and that Haaland’s effort may mark a shift toward greater tribal participation in future decision-making when it comes to identifying and protecting cultural resources. could.
“By creating a new collaborative process with ‘Honoring Chacko,’ we have the ability to mend broken promises and correct consulting mistakes,” said Rebecca Sobel of WildEarth Guardians Group. “Hopefully this will be the start of a new relationship.”