Chaco Canyon Endangered & Engulfed, A “Sacrifice Zone” Since the 70’s

Officially declared a “sacrifice Zone under Nixon, the Four Corners has long been under siege, essentially stripping its resources, disfiguring their landscape, and subjecting its residents to preventable disease and uncertain economic futures. Only Chaco has remained even marginally protected. Until now, to our endless shame.

Events & Actions.  We’ve been inundated with events of late, or maybe now that the Roundhouse session is over, I am paying more attention. In any case, below is a brief list of a sampling of what is on the horizon, but to get the full details, click here.

  • Environmental Law Center review of the legislative session, today at 9am
  • Retake Our Democracy, on KSFR, Sat. 8:30am Saturday
  • Chaco US Congressional Hearings, Monday 10-3pm Roundhouse Rm 307
  • Weds. April 17, New Energy Economy Legislative Review
  • Thurs, April 18, Retake Roundhouse Celebration, free pizza, and discussion of future plans
  • Thurs, April 18, Green New Deal Town Hall with Rep. Deb Haaland (follows Retake event)
  • Sat. Apr. 27, TEWA Women’s United garden planting, seed sharing and more.

For details on all of these events, click here.

Navajo Nation & the Four Corners, A Shameful Sacrifice Zone in More Ways than One

Roxanne and I went to Farmington this past weekend, meeting first with Chili Yazzie, the Navajo elder and decades long Shiprock Chapter President. He spoke haltingly of the spiritual descent of mankind as reflected in its treatment of the earth and indigenous people. We then participated in an Indivisible retreat that included a two-hour session with Mike Eisenfeld from the San Juan Citizens Alliance where we got a one-two punch of facts, figures, photos and maps illustrating the scale of gas and oli operations in the Four Corners. Finally, on Wednesday I met with Rebecca Sobel from WildEarth Guardians to record this week’s radio show and then just to talk politics, culture and our future. I wish I had recorded the informal conversation as it would have made even more compelling radio than the show itself. Although I highly recommend listening in, Sobel may be one of the best interview guests I’ve had on the show. Listen in tomorrow morning on KSFR, 101.1 FM at 8:30am.

The weekend and then the conversation with Sobel brought to mind something I have pondered every so often, a common religious phrase about that moment when you “stand before your maker.” The implication is that at some point, you must stand before a judge who will assess what you have done, how you have comported yourself, what you have done with the life you have been given. I am not a religious person, but of late I’ve mulled what it would be like should the United States as Nation, with its history of slavery, Jim Crow, indigenous peoples genocide, and imperialist domination, what if with all that we had to stand before a judge and receive our judgment. Our collective guilt would be irrefutable, but since the failed attempt to create the United Nations as some form of international adjudicator, this kind of judgement day seems unlikely. And so we continue to operate driven by hubris, false pride and an abiding belief that in advancing economically, in creating things, in controlling (and subjugating) others, we are advancing an American way of life. And I suppose we are: but what a life, what a legacy.

With the possible exception of slavery, nowhere is our Nation’s character displayed more clearly than in its relationship with indigenous people and the land that we have stolen from them. The legacy of slaughter, family separation and foster schools, broken treaties, and evisceration of a way of life is chronicled in many publications. And even those who try hard to avoid understanding this reality, have some inescapable grasp of what we have done.  What we have done. Not some nefarious “other,” our country, our tax dollars, our decisions, our neglect, our inadequate advocacy has brought us to this point in history.. At one point during our conversation, Chili looked at Roxanne and I and said when speaking of Chaco, “We need to take a stand at Chaco, like Standing Rock, but where we win.” He paused for a very long time after those words, with his eyes darting from Roxanne to me and back again. I don’t know if it was his intent, but as I’ve thought about it later, it seemed like a question: Will you be there?  Finally?

Today, I share a bit from the WildEarth Guardian website. It frames the situation in Chaco. For more on the subject, I suggest listening in tomorrow morning to the radio show and visiting their website, as it is excellent.  Then I’d encourage you to come to the Roundhouse on Monday 10-3 and sit in on the panels for what promises to  be a very deep dive into Chaco history, the gas and oil industries plans, and the response of indigenous leaders. And then, then I think it may be time for a line in the sand and for New Mexico to stand united to protect Chaco, not just with petitions and emails, but with our bodies. Can there be justice in a sacrifice zone?  It may be time to find out.  From WildEarth Guardians.

“The Greater Chaco region spans nearly 8,000 square miles in northwestern New Mexico, with Chaco Culture National Historical Park at its heart. For six centuries, starting in 700 A.D., Ancestral Puebloans constructed monuments of architecture and engineering in this area, and ruins still dot the landscape today. Modern-day Pueblo in New Mexico maintain ties to the land, and, over the last 600 years, Navajo have settled it.

In the 1970s, the Nixon administration designated the Four Corners area, which includes Greater Chaco, as an “energy sacrifice zone”—essentially giving extractive industries a blank check to inflict environmental destruction while the government turned a blind eye. Uranium, coal, oil, and natural gas companies mined the land for decades.

With the invention of horizontal drilling (“fracking”), which allowed companies to reach oil and gas deposits previously locked away under layers of rock, fracking activity in the area exploded.

Industrialized fracking continues to wreak havoc on the landscape of Greater Chaco and on its Native communities. Convoys of semi-trucks destroy communities’ dirt roads. Sacred lands are inaccessible. And that’s before diving into fracking’s heinous effects on air, water, and wildlife.

Today, 91 percent of lands in northwestern New Mexico are leased for oil and gas drilling, with much of the remaining nine percent located in Greater Chaco. The Bureau of Land Management continues to auction off more land despite protests from the Navajo Nation, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the National Congress of American Indians, 15 Navajo Chapter Houses, the New Mexico House Legislature, Guardians, allies, and hundreds of thousands of public citizens—and despite the fact that it hasn’t studied industrialized fracking’s effects on environment and community.”  [Emphasis mine.]

Less than 500 words, but it tells a shameful story that illustrates our Nation’s priorities with some precision. Profit over culture, people, land, air and water. The piece references how semi-trucks destroy native roads and ironically, today there was an excellent piece in the Santa Fe New Mexican describing “the road” as it is known by the Sanostee Chapter of the Navajo Nation.

In reference to the 1868 treaty signed by the Navajo Nation and the US, the New Mexican notes: “In addition to creating a Navajo reservation, the treaty spelled out the responsibilities of the federal government. In exchange for peace and the relinquishment of Navajo claims to land outside the reservation, the government pledged to provide a school house and a teacher for every 30 students.

The promises were essentially worthless. The federal government and its Bureau of Indian Affairs have historically failed to furnish even the most basic infrastructure necessary to operate local schools. Among the most obvious failures: Federal agencies refused to construct roads that would allow children to ride a bus to schools near their home. Instead, they were sent to distant boarding schools that stripped them of their Native language and culture.”

The article’s focus is on a single road: Indian State Service Road 5010, but the often impassable dirt road is really a metaphor, a metaphor that illustrates our Nation, our State and our capacity to ignore what is unpleasant or difficult. No doubt, it would be expensive to rebuild Road 5010, but we find funds to repair the roads in southeast NM as they are vital to delivering gas and oil and there is profit in this. The New Mexican story ends with a quote from Emil Benally, a 70-year old Navajo grandfather who has seen much: “If you live in a city with paved roads, you can’t even imagine this,” Benally said. “It’s like we’re lost somewhere in the past.”  Yes, we are, but the point where “lost” began is long ago and the path to justice can only be found by those who are lost. That is our challenge. I hope to see you Monday at the hearing.  The New Mexican article is extremely well written and worth your time, click here.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

Leave a Reply