Chaco Canyon deserves better

December 5, 2018

For the 20 pueblos of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, Chaco Canyon and the fragile cultural landscapes emanating from what is known as the Greater Chaco Region are irreplaceable cultural resources worthy of careful and meaningful land use planning and protection.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 5 and 6, portions of the Greater Chaco Region will be sold to the highest bidder, as part of the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management’s oil and gas lease sale.

This is occurring despite offers of assistance, comment, protest and public appeal from individual pueblos.

Over the course of several years, the All Pueblo Council of Governors and individual pueblos have repeatedly alerted the BLM to the presence of irreplaceable Pueblo cultural resources and sacred sites, both archaeological and natural (with archaeological traces) in the areas being leased.

The National Historic Preservation Act mandates that the BLM take reasonable steps to identify and evaluate eligible historic properties that could be listed to the National Register of Historic Places. The act calls for identifying the potential historic properties of the All Pueblo Council of Governors’ 20 pueblos and other tribes in the region prior to committing itself to the sale of oil and gas leases.

However, outside the pueblos, little information is available about the Pueblos’ ties to the Greater Chaco Region that would enable the BLM to meet its mandated duties. Pueblo ethnographic information is scarce or entirely absent from the archaeological and academic record that the BLM relies upon in attempting to meet its duties under the National Historic Preservation Act. However, this does not mean the Pueblos’ living ties, knowledge of cultural sites and ability to identify the footsteps and fingerprints of their ancestors does not exist.

Repeatedly, Pueblo leaders have offered to get on the ground, using their cultural expertise, to assist in identifying those cultural resources that the BLM is unable or unwilling to identify. Our offer has never been taken up.

The pueblos are not crying foul. However, it strikes me as curious as to why the agency is not allowing us to be active participants in addressing this information gap. In October, the All Pueblo Council of Governors submitted a proposal responding to an exclusive request from the Department of the Interior to obtain Pueblo ethnographic information it sorely lacked.

Despite this comprehensive and Pueblo-driven effort to assist the Interior Department and the BLM, we have received no response. Individual pueblos are not waiting on the government. The Pueblo of Acoma, after several offers were made with no action, took it upon itself to initiate its own limited ethnographic projects in order to protect its cultural resources. The pueblo believes it is extremely crucial to provide the BLM with vital information prior to future developments and leasing. Still, the BLM is moving forward with these lease sales, at significant cost to the Pueblos and the rest of the nation.

Earlier this year, Secretary Ryan Zinke made the right decision in postponing the March 2018 lease sale, recognizing the need for further cultural resource work in order to create an adequate information base for the BLM to fulfill its NHPA duties.

However, since then, nothing substantively has changed. No additional and meaningful consultation with the pueblos has occurred. This comes as the December 2018 lease sale looms, covering some of the same areas as the March sale, and possibly portions of the Greater Chaco Region that have not been evaluated fully.

It is important to clearly establish pueblo ties to the Greater Chaco region and for the BLM to comply with federal law. To date, our offers of assistance and calls for pueblo participation in the process have fallen on deaf ears — even as the steady drumbeat of development moves forward. It is shameful it has come this. It has never been our intent to stop all development. However, the “multiple use” provision mandated in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act becomes a mockery when we are left to interpret that to mean “single use.” Development should not be to our detriment and should not mean silencing our voices. We deserve better. Chaco Canyon — that incredible monumental record of early Pueblo civilization, deserves better.

E. Paul Torres is the chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors and a former Governor for the Pueblo of Isleta.

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