WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M) introduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, a bill to withdraw the lands around Chaco Canyon from further development by the federal government. The bill would ensure the protection of Chaco ruins and the greater landscape surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historical Park by preventing any future leasing or development of minerals owned by the U.S. government that are located within a protected radius around Chaco.
"The greater Chaco region is a New Mexico treasure. Many Tribes and Pueblos in Northern New Mexico can trace their ancestry and culture to Chaco, and consider these sites sacred,” Udall said. “But even as archeologists are making exciting new discoveries about this region, Chaco is being threatened by expanding energy development. I am proud of my work with New Mexico’s Pueblos and the Navajo Nation to craft this bill to protect this sacred, archaeological wonder. This legislation reflects hundreds of public comments, and honors New Mexico’s history and culture, recognizing that some places are just too special to lose.”
“Chaco Canyon is a sacred site that is revered by all New Mexicans and deserves to be protected from any harmful development that would damage its precious historical and cultural resources. The Chaco region holds deep meaning to New Mexico's Pueblos, whose history and traditional knowledge reside in its thousands of ancestral sites, as well as to the Navajo Nation, whose lands and communities surround much of Chaco Culture National Historical Park,” Heinrich said. “I’m proud to introduce legislation that would protect the remaining Chaco ruins and landscape nearest to the existing Park from federal mineral development. This bill is about listening to New Mexicans, and especially Tribal communities, who have called for us to protect the integrity of Chaco Canyon. We will continue to work in close collaboration with our Tribes, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to protect important cultural and religious sites in the greater Chaco region while planning for any future energy development in the San Juan Basin.”
Udall and Heinrich today held a press conference call with President of Navajo Nation Russell Begaye and Governor of Zuni Pueblo Val Panteah to announce the introduction of the bill. Audio of the call can be found HERE.
The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act would withdraw minerals owned by the U.S. government from future leasing and development that are located within the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone – which surrounds the Chaco Culture National Historical Park – protecting the remaining Chaco ruins and landscape nearest the park. The bill withdraws 316,076 acres of minerals from the 909,000 acres of the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone of oil, natural gas, coal, gold, silver and other minerals owned by the federal government. In respecting Tribal self-determination, only minerals owned by the federal government are subject to withdrawal - excluding minerals in the area that are owned by private, state, and Tribal entities.
The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act is supported by Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG), New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society, and Southwest Native Cultures. The resolution in support from APCG can be found HERE.
President of the Navajo Nation Russell Begaye said, “We are connected to these lands spiritually. The voices of our ancestors live in this area and any disturbance to this area is culturally and morally insensitive. This is why I support this initiative from Senators Udall and Heinrich to protect these lands using this bill.”
All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman and Former Governor of Isleta Pueblo E. Paul Torres said, “The International community celebrates Greater Chaco as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is time for the United States to join them in this recognition. The cultural and historical artifacts contained here are not only important to Native American Tribes, but also to all who come to learn from our past. But once this area is developed, it is gone forever. We thank Senator Udall and Senator Heinrich for their foresight and for working with Pueblo and Navajo nations on a bill to protect this beloved place.”
Governor of Zuni Pueblo Val Panteah said, "Preserving the Greater Chaco Canyon landscape is a priority for Zuni Pueblo and all 20 nations of the All Pueblo Council of Governors. For our people these sacred places are an essential connection to our past, to our culture as Pueblo people and to our ancestors that still reside in this place. The Greater Chaco landscape is the root of our great native American family-tree. It is where our ancestors built their monuments and observed the cosmos. In this place they spoke prayers on behalf of all people. And when we protect this place we honor their prayers and bless ourselves. We give thanks to Senator Udall, Senator Heinrich, the Navajo Nation and all 20 Pueblo Nations who contributed to this process. Today is a victory for all people who care about Chaco Canyon.”
Executive Director of New Mexico Wild, Mark Allison said, “Many Chacoan sites exist outside the Park's official boundaries, so lease sales by BLM in the surrounding area almost always means the loss of artifacts, history, and sacred sites as well as wildlands, habitat and dark skies. This bill represents a major step forward to permanently protecting the area’s rich cultural heritage, world-class archeological resources and sensitive natural landscape. We are proud to stand in solidarity with the All Pueblo Council of Governors and the Navajo Nation supporting this legislation and want to express our profound thanks to Senators Udall and Heinrich for their leadership.”
New Mexico Director of the Wilderness Society, Michael Casaus said, “More leasing and drilling could destroy the Greater Chaco Landscape, and decisive action is needed to save it. Fortunately, Senators Udall and Heinrich are taking action with a bill to protect irreplaceable sacred sites and history. We deeply appreciate the efforts that our senators are making to ensure the interests of the Pueblos and Navajo Nation are permanently safeguarded through this withdrawal.”