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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Biden proposes 20-year ban on drilling near sacred tribal land in New Mexico

The Chaco Culture National Historical Park has faced encroaching threats from oil and gas exploration in recent years.

WASHINGTON (CN) — During a summit organized to strengthen the U.S. government's relationship with Native American tribes, President Joe Biden announced plans Monday to freeze federal oil and natural gas drilling around a sacred site in New Mexico that was once the center of Ancestral Puebloan civilization.

Biden's proposal would place a two-decade ban on leasing federal land for oil and natural gas drilling within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historic Park. The Department of Interior will consider the plan in the coming weeks.

Home to Chaco Canyon, the expansive park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and spiritually and historically sacred land for American Indians. The land was a center for Native American life in the region for more than 300 years, beginning in the 800s. Remains from the civilization's extensive masonry, massive architecture and intricate art continue to be discovered onsite.

In recent years, however, protection of the land has been at odds with energy companies drawn by its rich oil and gas deposits. Development nearby caused environmentalists and archeologists to warn that it could compromise land within the park and adjacent land that's culturally significant to Native American tribes.

Congress paused drilling around the park for a year in 2020, protections the Biden administration appears looking to expand.

President Joe Biden signs an executive order at the 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit. (Image via Courthouse News)

As the federal government attempts to address the future of the land, the Bureau of Land Management will conduct a two-year review of public sentiment around and the potential environmental effects of a two-decade drilling ban in the area.

If implemented, the federal plan would not apply to private, tribal or state-owned land, and it would not restrict other types of construction and development. New Mexico has placed a moratorium, however, on providing more leases for mineral excavation within 10 miles of the park.

Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohican Indians, praised the land-protection proposal and holding of the summit as necessary steps to address inequality.

"The United States of America was founded on the notion of equality for all and since the beginning there was an acknowledgement, certainly by previous administrations, but certainly by President Biden that although it was always the goal of the U.S. government to live up to its trust responsibility, this country has never fully lived up to it. Throughout our history, this promise has been denied to Native Americans who have lived on this land since time immemorial," Holsey said.

In addition to the land-protection proposal, Biden signed an executive order Monday aimed at creating a federal support structure to combat what the White House referred to as "the epidemic of missing or murdered Indigenous peoples."

The executive order directs multiple executive agencies, including the Departments of Justice, Interior, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, to work together to establish a network to improve public safety and provide resources for Tribal Nations

"These efforts, again to use the word my dad would use so much, are a matter of dignity. That’s the foundation of our nation to nation partnership," Biden said.

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Categories / Environment, National, Politics

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