Trump policy hits New Mexico Indigenous site

The Dakota Access Pipeline has received a great deal of coverage in the news, but the struggle against environmental degradation isn’t isolated to the Dakotas. In the Southwest, Chaco Canyon is an important archaeological site and Indigenous historical relic of a lost culture.

Defenders of Chaco Canyon have been fighting against fracking in this national park, and the fight was thought to be over. However, with Trump becoming president and new policies being enforced regarding both DAPL and Chaco Canyon, construction has resumed. Construction had previously been halted by strong opposition from nearby Indigenous communities and protesters from across the state.

The Bureau of Land Management has been stopped three different times since 2012, when fracking was first proposed. Land rights were sold for $3 million for 843 acres of Chaco Canyon this past January.

On Feb. 7, after lengthy and emotional testimony from residents about effects fracking has had on their health and livelihoods, a memorial motion that would have temporarily paused fracking operations in Chaco Canyon to allow for an assessment of the environmental impacts of fracking failed to pass the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Some 91 percent of the area surrounding the canyon has already been used by the oil and gas companies to extract resources. This is a new exploitative wave attacking rural and Indigenous communities.

With presidential orders taking effect, more efforts to privatize indigenous lands can be expected, a problem for many tribes across the United States. Indigenous tribal leaders have mixed positions on privatization; some believe that moving forward with industry will bring money to poverty-stricken reservations. “We should take tribal land away from public treatment,” said Markwayne Mullin, a Republican U.S. Representative from Oklahoma and a Cherokee tribe member who is co-chairing Trump’s Native American Affairs Coalition. “As long as we can do it without unintended consequences, I think we will have broad support around Indian country.”

A violation of Indigenous sovereignty

Others believe privatization is a violation of Indigenous sovereignty and perverts the sacred responsibility of being caretakers of the land.

In 2009, the council of energy resources tribes, estimated that 20 percent of untapped energy resources in the United States lay underneath indigenous reservations, worth around $1.5 trillion. With corporations’ eyes locked on extracting wealth from oil-rich environments, the lives of neighboring communities around Chaco Canyon have been put on the back burner.

This isn’t the first such move by the U.S. government. In 1953, the Congress adopted a “termination” policy that removed 2.5 acres of land from tribal control and displaced 12,000 Native Americans, which included losing tribal affiliation.

While tribal leaders promise that their people will be treated with respect and dignity, the same cannot be said about the land they inhabit. With promises of wealth being made by leaders to their fellow tribal members, many remember the misuse of funds and underhanded deals that have ruined the livelihood of so many in their communities.

“It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and the broken promises.”—Chief Joseph (1840-1904), Niimíipu Tribe (Nez Perce)

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