Op-Ed: Sacred Spaces Must Be Protected From Extraction

The United States has a terrible legacy of racism and exploitation of people and land. This legacy is something that our current society is dealing with everyday as people are in the streets marching for justice and change that has been fueled by the inequities that COVID-19 has further exposed for all to see. This is our opportunity to make decisions now that put a stop to extraction and exploitation and turn a page for justice.

Globalization and development of resources has come at the expense of indigenous people around the globe. Purposefully, under-resourced for centuries to drive assimilation to American culture, Tribal people of the United States proudly remain connected to the land, water, animals, and plants. They recognize their responsibility to the world that they are a part of and not above. They honor their traditional ways and seek to steward the world to ensure that it can provide for a thriving next seven generations. This is something we should all do.

We write today to bring awareness to yet another example of broken promises, broken treaties, and a willingness by the government and industry to desecrate the sacred places of Tribal nations, to make water and air toxic while placing profits over the health and safety of people as the climate crisis grows. Today, we ask you to take a few minutes to tell the Trump Administration and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to honor Tribal consultation and to not frack the Greater Chaco Region.

Who are the Chaco people and what is the Greater Chaco Region? The Chaco Culture built massive structures one thousand years ago throughout the four corners region and many ruins remain throughout the region. Today, the Greater Chaco Region includes Chaco Canyon, a National Historical Park that is listed as a United Nations Educational, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization  (UNESCO) World Heritage Site and is a checkerboarded area of Tribal, state, federal, and allotment land. The Diné, Pueblo, and other Indigenous people have been leading the charge to protect this place.

The landscape is beautiful, but unfortunately more than 90% of the surrounding area of the greater Chaco region has and is being extracted by fracking wells. In fact, to date there are more than 40,000 wells in operation in this area. When we say extractive we mean more than hydrocarbons that come from within the earth, but the negative impacts that this development has had on the surrounding community and Tribal members. The Trump Administration now plans to open the door for more than 3,000 new fracking wells and is taking advantage of the pandemic to rush through more fracking that would bring more pollution to the Greater Chaco region. BLM has been criticized for months for continuing with the Farmington Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment process and for continuing oil and gas lease sales and to permit drilling during the pandemic. With unprecedented wildfires and other climate fueled weather events, making plans for more than 3,000 new fracking wells is scientifically unfounded and morally bankrupt.

Soon after the pandemic hit earlier this year, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt extended the comment period for this dangerous draft plan amendment and sought virtual public input. These rural impacted and Tribal communities lack access to internet and electricity yet this process continues online, and have seen some of the highest rates of coronavirus resulting and strict stay at home orders to contain the pandemic making it much harder to organize the community.

The deadline to comment is today Friday, September 25. Please take a few minutes to comment.

The Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs must suspend the Farmington Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment process, extending the comment deadline, until Tribal authorities and the public are able to meaningfully participate with in person engagement that does not risk health and safety. In light of the COVID-19 emergency, there is no need for the BLM to keep burdening the already-burdened public.

The Tribal nations have a right to protect this sacred landscape where their ancestors are buried and to protect their health now. Please join us in protecting human rights to clean air, water, and religious protections. This place is held in the highest regard to human cultural history by the United Nations and we must push back on American exceptionalism that seeks to extract this sacred place and fuel the climate emergency.

Ean Thomas Tafoya 
Isiah Otero 
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