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Protest halts celebration of 20-year oil drilling ban in Chaco National Park

After months of public meetings and discussions with Native American leaders, US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland was due to return home. Navajo landowners blocked the road to the Chaco Culture National Historic Park on Sunday, angered that the Biden administration had dedicated for 20 years what had been an informal 10-mile buffer zone around the World Heritage site. The demonstrators shouted “Go home!” and held up posters reading “No Trespassing.” Navajo landowners and leaders say Haaland and the Biden administration ignored efforts to reach a solution that would have established a tighter buffer zone to protect cultural sites while preserving tribal lands and private property belonging to tribal groups. Navajos for future development. Haaland and tribal leaders celebrated the pullout Sunday in Albuquerque.

Laguna, Haaland’s pueblo 100 miles to the south, has campaigned to protect a large area outside the park boundaries. Haaland called the Chaco a precious site for indigenous peoples and spoke on Sunday of decades of Navajo-Laguna cooperation. Haaland said matriarchal societies require women to take care of their families and communities. She said she takes her responsibilities as a Pueblo woman and Secretary of the Interior seriously. Different owners own the area. Navajo leaders and housing estate owners say their interests will be landlocked after the Biden administration removes federal property. Navajo President Buu Nygren called the weekend celebration sad and insulting on Thursday. He advised cancellation.

Industry groups have also backed Navajo chiefs and landowners, arguing that Haaland has conflicting interests when it comes to oil and gas policy. A Republican-led U.S. House committee said just days after the Chaco decision it would investigate the secretary’s ties to an Indigenous environmental group that protests fossil fuels. Still, a coalition of environmental groups and Native American activists who have lobbied for the limitations applauded Haaland’s order as a first step in protecting historic sites and the region from pollution and climate change. The organization is also advocating for legislation codifying the same buffer zone around the park on more than 490 square miles (1,269 square kilometers) of federal land.

The Home Office’s autumn analysis found that the withdrawal would not affect existing leases and that the majority of the industry’s projected development area is already leased or outside the withdrawal boundary. Supporters say the Navajos were implicated in the latest restriction on building Chaco Park, which has been in effect for at least three presidential administrations. The All Pueblo Board of Governors, which includes many tribes in favor of the withdrawal, said Sunday that cooperative negotiations with the Navajos several years ago spurred the withdrawal.

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