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The ban on oil and gas leasing near a sacred area for Native Americans has been extended by NM.
Science & Health

The ban on oil and gas leasing near a sacred area for Native Americans has been extended by NM.

State land near Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a significant site for Native Americans, will not be available for new oil and gas leasing for the next two decades due to an order from New Mexico’s Land Commissioner, Stephanie Garcia Richard.

Wednesday’s order extends a temporary moratorium that she put in place when she took office in 2019. It covers more than 293 square kilometers of state trust land in what is a sprawling checkerboard of private, state, federal and tribal holdings in northwestern New Mexico.

Last year, the U.S. government implemented a 20-year ban on new oil, gas, and mineral leasing in the Chaco area, in response to requests from pueblos and other tribal nations in the Southwest with historical connections to the region.

During a virtual conference on Thursday, Garcia Richard expressed the intention to prevent further development from encroaching on Chaco. This applies not only to the park itself, but also to the surrounding unexplored acres.

In a statement after the meeting, she emphasized the significance of the greater Chaco landscape and stressed the importance of taking all necessary measures to safeguard it.

Lieutenant Governor Cordelia Hooee of Zuni Pueblo described it as a momentous occasion. She stated that tribal leaders in the area are still hoping for long-term safeguards to be put in place through congressional intervention.

She stated that both Chaco Canyon and the surrounding region hold significant significance in the history, religion, and culture of not only the Zuni people but also other Pueblo communities. It is crucial to safeguard these cultural landscapes for future generations, as the survival of Indigenous peoples is intertwined with them.

The cultural importance of Chaco is apparent through traditional songs, prayers, and stories passed down through oral tradition. According to leaders of the pueblo community, there are still individuals who make journeys to this region, which features desert landscapes, gentle hills with piñon and juniper trees, and sandstone canyons created by centuries of wind and water.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a designated World Heritage site, is believed to have been the focal point of a thriving Indigenous society. The park contains impressive remnants of stone constructions constructed by the area’s earliest inhabitants, as well as remnants of roads and other associated locations located further afield.

The executive order was issued after a gathering of tribal leaders in Washington last week, during which government representatives promised to maintain open communication in order to give Native American leaders a stronger voice in decisions regarding land management in culturally important regions. In addition, new instructions have been released for federal agencies to assist with this initiative.

The New Mexico State Land Office is under no obligation to conduct formal consultations with tribes, however, officials have been collaborating with tribal leaders for the past five years and aim to establish a formal policy that can be utilized by future administrations.

The villages have recently finished conducting an ethnographic research of the area on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior. They aim for this study to be utilized in federal decision-making processes.