FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – October 30, 2019
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Ben Ray Luján, the U.S. House Assistant Speaker, along with U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small, joined Tribal leaders and conservation advocates to celebrate the House passage of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, a bipartisan bill to prevent future mineral leasing on federally-owned lands around Chaco Canyon.
Introduced in April by the New Mexico Delegation, the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act would withdraw 316,076 acres of minerals owned by the federal government from future leasing and development located within the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone, an approximately 10-mile protected radius around Chaco. It does not affect the mineral rights of an Indian Tribe or member of Indian Tribe to trust or allotment land.
Earlier this year, Luján, Udall, and Heinrich secured a one-year moratorium on oil and gas drilling near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. As Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Haaland guided the bill through the committee in September.
“The greater Chaco region is sacred land that has significant religious, cultural, and linguistic value to the original peoples of the southwest. The House passage of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act is a major victory for New Mexico and significant progress toward establishing permanent protections for Chaco Canyon. For at least a decade, drilling and extraction have threatened the sacred, ancestral homelands of the greater Chaco region, putting this treasured landscape at risk of desecration,” said Luján. “I’m extremely proud to have worked alongside the New Mexico Delegation, Tribal leaders, and every day New Mexicans who fought tirelessly for this progress. It’s time for the Senate to protect Chaco so that future generations inherit their spiritual homelands intact.”
“Today, the House has taken a major step forward for Chaco Canyon, passing our legislation to protect an irreplaceable landscape that is sacred to Tribes and holds deep meaning for people in New Mexico and around the country,” said Udall. “The greater Chaco region is a New Mexico treasure with thousands of visitors each year who come to explore its singular history and natural beauty. Despite overwhelming support from Tribes, New Mexicans, and the American public— Chaco is still at risk from expanding energy development, including recently proposed leasing inside this long-standing buffer zone. I began working on this legislation nearly two years ago with Tribes and the New Mexico delegation and I applaud my colleagues in the House for passing protections for Chaco Canyon to protect its sacred and fragile landscape from further development. Now it is time for the Senate to pass legislation that respects and preserves Chaco’s natural, historical, and cultural importance. I will work tirelessly until we get this done for our Tribes, our communities, and future generations.”
“The Chaco region holds deep meaning to New Mexico’s Pueblos and to the Navajo Nation, whose history and traditional knowledge live on in its thousands of ancestral sites, and whose lands and communities surround Chaco Culture National Historical Park. We are one step closer to protecting these sacred landscapes for future generations,” said Heinrich. “This is about listening to tribal leaders and all of the New Mexicans who are calling on us to preserve the integrity of Chaco’s irreplaceable resources. I will continue to work to create a productive, bipartisan path forward in the Senate to get our legislation over the finish line.”
“Chaco Canyon is a sacred place that future generations should be able to experience and learn from, but we’ve seen time and again how extractive industries threaten special places like Chaco. I’m incredibly blessed to work with colleagues who recognize the value of Chaco Canyon and has worked so hard to pass a bill that will protect Chaco, so that the future generations of Pueblo people will have access to the place where our ancestors are buried, and New Mexicans will be able to take pride in having this pristine site in our state for years to come,” said Haaland.
“The passage of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act is the result of years of hard work and collaboration between New Mexico’s Congressional delegation, tribal leadership, and other stakeholders. The joint effort ensures Chaco Canyon and its sacred lands are protected for generations to come. The legislation works together with tribal communities to honor our trust responsibility and protect sacred, ancestral lands like Chaco Canyon,” said Torres Small.
“On behalf of the Navajo people, Vice President Myron Lizer and I thank Assistant Speaker Luján for his support, leadership, and partnership with the Navajo people to protect our beautiful and sacred lands. The bill aims to protect the land, structures, and environment from any unanticipated adverse effects associated with unchecked oil and gas development in the region,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.
“The Greater Chaco Region is a living landscape, meant to be accessible for tribal communities to support the continuance of cultural practices vital to our present cultural identity. Most importantly, the bill helps to preserve the sacred area for our future generations,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer.
“The Pueblos of New Mexico and Texas are forever tied to the sacred sites and cultural resources across the Greater Chaco Landscape. The integrity of this region ensures the continuance of our cultural traditions, and the well-being of our identity as handed down to us by our ancestors. On behalf of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, I would like to thank Assistant Speaker Luján and his fellow lawmakers for their commitment to protecting the places that are vital to the past, present, and future of our Pueblo nations and communities,” said Chairman E. Paul Torres, All Pueblo Council of Governors.
“On behalf of the Pueblo of Santa Clara, I thank Senator Udall, Senator Heinrich, Representative Luján, Representative Haaland, and Representative Torres Small for their tireless efforts to protect the irreplaceable cultural landscape of the Greater Chaco Region. This cultural landscape is a sacred place integral to the identity and ongoing cultural practices of Pueblo people. It is not only the home of our ancestors–the eye of the wheel from which the Pueblos migrated – and rich in cultural resources, but it is also a living place we continue to interact with through song, prayer, and pilgrimage,” said J. Michael Chavarria, Governor of Santa Clara Pueblo.
“The Pueblo of Acoma praises the tireless efforts by our New Mexico Congressional delegation to ensure the passage of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act. Chaco Canyon, and the Greater Chaco Region, is a critically important cultural landscape worthy of protection and preservation. For Acoma people, Chaco Canyon is entrenched in our deep collective memory as ancestors lived their lives before making their transcendent journey from that place. Unfortunately, Chaco Canyon’s purposeful placement by our ancestors is now its greatest peril, as oil and gas development marches closer to Chaco Canyon, threatening critical and irreplaceable cultural resources. Acoma calls upon the Senate to immediately move for the passage of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act,” said Brian D. Vallo, Governor of Acoma Pueblo.
“Expanded fracking across the Greater Chaco Landscape threatens our region’s rich cultural history, community health, and Indigenous rights. Today’s vote is an important step toward protecting the region and cultural resources, and we applaud Representatives Luján, Haaland, and Torres Small for their leadership on this issue,” said Miya King Flaherty, Organizing Representative for the Sierra Club: Rio Grande Chapter Director. “We look forward to continuing to work with our elected leaders to achieve full and permanent protections for the broader Chaco landscape and the people who live there.”
“Chaco Canyon’s irreplaceable treasures need more than temporary protections. The House’s passage of proactive legislation will help ensure future generations inherit a place that has not been permanently scarred by unchecked energy development,” said Michael Casaus, New Mexico State Director of The Wilderness Society. “Now it’s the Senate’s turn to listen to the interests of the Pueblos and Navajo Nation, and the many who stand with them. We urge the Senate to act this year.”
“With over 90% of BLM lands in the district already leased for oil and gas and threats of new development within the greater Chaco area occurring over and over again, this legislation is based on an obvious and commonsense line in the sand – America is not so weak and shortsighted to need to despoil a one of a kind World Heritage Site and a place considered sacred by tribes and pueblos. We know we’re bigger and better than that as a nation, and so does New Mexico’s entire congressional delegation. We stand with them and thank them for their leadership,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild.
“Throughout the Southwest—and internationally as a World Heritage Site—Chaco Culture National Historical Park is renowned for the millennia of living history and ancestral sites that it protects. The archaeology, sacred sites and sensitive desert lands protected within the park extend far beyond its boundaries and, in the face of short-sighted energy policies, deserve permanent protection. Congress has the opportunity to create a conservation legacy for Chaco and the surrounding landscape by passing this bipartisan legislation. The cultural landscape within and surrounding Chaco is at risk if we don’t take action now to preserve our country’s history and culture for current and future generations,” said Ernie Atencio, Southwest Regional Director, National Parks Conservation Association.