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Heinrich Cosponsors Reintroduction of Legislation to Permanently Protect Chaco Canyon

New Mexico Delegation Moves to Protect Sacred Site for Generations to Come

WASHINGTON – Today, Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), and U.S. Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.), Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.), and Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.) reintroduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act to protect Chaco Canyon and the greater sacred landscape surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
Located in northwestern New Mexico, the Greater Chaco landscape is a region of great cultural, spiritual, and historical significance to many Pueblos and Tribes that contains living sacred sites. Chaco was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is one of only 24 such sites in the United States.
This legislation will prevent future leasing and development of oil, gas, and minerals on non-Indian federal lands within a 10-mile buffer zone around the park. This proposed Chaco Protection Zone will preserve the sacred sites and cultural patrimony within Chaco Canyon and the surrounding landscape for generations to come.
In 2021, the Biden administration announced it would begin consideration of a 20 year Administrative Withdrawal of non-Indian federal lands in the 10-mile buffer zone. As the Administration weighs its decision, a 2-year moratorium on new leasing and mineral development remains in effect. By contrast, this legislation would provide permanent protections for the Greater Chaco Region by withdrawing non-Indian federal lands from new mineral development in perpetuity.
“Chaco Canyon is one of the most important living cultural landscapes on the planet. It holds deep meaning for Pueblo people and many New Mexicans. Since I have been in Congress, I have worked in close partnership with Tribal leaders and a broad array of New Mexicans to prevent new oil and gas development in the vicinity of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. That includes the Biden administration’s administrative withdrawal to protect the area within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park from new federal oil and gas leasing and development for the next 20 years. We need to make that permanent. That’s why I am proud to once again join Senator Luján, our delegation, and all of the Pueblos, Tribal Nations, and New Mexicans who have called for permanent protection of the irreplaceable and sacred landscape that is Chaco Canyon,” said Heinrich. 
“Chaco Culture National Historical Park – and the Greater Chaco Region – is one of the world’s greatest treasures that must be protected for generations to come. Chaco holds deep spiritual and cultural significance for Tribes and Pueblos and is one of only a handful of World Heritage Sites in the United States,” said Luján. “Alongside the New Mexico Delegation, I am proud to introduce legislation to permanently protect the Greater Chaco Region. This legislation is a longstanding priority for Pueblo and Tribal communities, environmental advocates, and the New Mexico Delegation to ensure we protect our sacred sites. I look forward to building support for this legislation, including in Congress and across New Mexico.
“To visit Chaco Canyon and the Greater Chaco Region is to better understand who we are and where we come from. This sacred area educates, inspires, and compels us to reflect on the importance of both our shared history and the communities we love today,” said Leger Fernández. “I am reintroducing the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, along with my colleagues in the New Mexico Congressional Delegation, so that we may preserve this irreplaceable, living landscape that so many Indian Tribes and Pueblos use for traditional purposes to this day. I will continue to work with surrounding communities and Tribal nations to preserve this jewel of New Mexico so future generations may be humbled by its beauty.”
“Pueblo and Tribal leaders have fought to protect the sacred and ancestral lands of Chaco Canyon for generations,” said Stansbury, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee. “Efforts by Secretary Haaland and the Biden Administration to protect Chaco Canyon and its cultural resources represent years of advocacy and consultation with Tribal communities. Congress must also do its part to permanently protect these lands. I am proud to join Pueblo and Tribal leaders and the New Mexico delegation in re-introducing the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act. With this legislation, we will protect these sacred lands and sites for generations to come.”
"The Chaco Canyon and the Greater Chaco Region are not just significant landscapes, but they are the footprints of our ancestors and hold deep meaning for many Tribes, Pueblos, and communities in northern New Mexico,” said Vasquez. “I applaud the reintroduction of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, which will provide urgently needed permanent protections to preserve the ancestral sites and cultural patrimony within Chaco Canyon and the surrounding landscape for generations to come.”
"Chaco Canyon and the Greater Chaco Canyon Region are integral to Pueblo history and culture, representing our ancestral footprint and the foundation of the core values that our communities strive to uphold. We recognize that other Tribes in the Southwest also regard Chaco as important to their traditional knowledge systems. The reintroduction of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act serves as a means to safeguard our Indigenous histories and reaffirm our enduring connections permanently.  We extend our gratitude to bill champions Senator Luján and Congresswoman Leger Fernandez, as well as cosponsors Senator Heinrich, Congresswoman Stansbury, and Congressman Vasquez, for reintroducing this important legislation. The Pueblos eagerly anticipate joining you as the legislation progresses through Congress and ultimately becomes law,” said Mark Mitchell, Chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors and Former Governor of Tesuque Pueblo.
To ensure Indian lands and non-federal lands retain rights to develop their lands as the surrounding area is protected, this legislation strengthens protections for infrastructure and development on private, state, and Tribal lands, including Navajo allotments. According to a 2022 federal assessment of the proposed 10-mile buffer zone, only 10 Navajo allotments will be highly impacted by a withdrawal.
A summary of the bill is available HERE. Full text of the bill is available HERE.