First Native American Interior Secretary At War With Tribe Over Oil And Gas Drilling

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Trevor Schakohl Legal Reporter
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The Navajo Nation Council voted Thursday to oppose plans by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the country’s first-ever Native American Cabinet member, to ban oil and gas drilling on 351,000 acres of public land around New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park and establish a buffer zone surrounding the site.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management formally proposed withdrawing the 351,000 acres of public land surrounding Chaco Canyon in January 2021, with Haaland and other New Mexico congressional Democrats having co-sponsored legislation in 2019 to establish a 10-mile buffer zone around the historical park. The Navajo Nation Council passed a January 2020 resolution proposing a 5-mile buffer zone in response to the legislation, but ultimately dismissed that proposal and condemned the public land withdrawal plan in a resolution signed Monday.

Chaco Canyon sits just east of the Navajo Nation’s territoryHaaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, whose lands are found more than 50 miles to the south. (RELATED: ‘You’re Telling Me We Have Too Many Jobs?’: Josh Hawley Rips Interior Secretary’s Rationale For Shutting Down US Mines)

The proposed public land withdrawal and Chaco Canyon buffer zone would hurt Navajo Nation members who have been allotted land with gas and oil leasing potential, the Navajo Nation Council’s new resolution argued. It said adopting the zone would further impoverish allottees who depend on income from oil and gas royalties.

“Haaland and Interior Department officials have grossly mismanaged the land withdrawal process since first announcing it in 2021,” Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma said. “They have failed to hold adequate tribal consultations and listen to the voices of the Navajo Nation in the immediate vicinity of Chaco while giving preference to Sec. Haaland’s and related Puebloan tribes hundreds of miles away.”

Haaland’s climate activist daughter Somah has lobbied members of Congress and works with the Pueblo Action Alliance, which was involved in an Oct. 14, 2021, protest at the Interior Department’s Washington, D.C., headquarters against oil and gas leasing around Chaco Culture National Historical Park, the Western Energy Alliance reported. Demonstrators broke into the building, with violence ensuing when police attempted to remove them.

Somah tweeted a photo of herself near the White House during a protest days earlier.

In an earlier podcast interview, Pueblo Action Alliance Executive Director Julia Bernal said organization leaders met with Haaland that summer. Bernal called Haaland “Auntie Deb,” adding, “You know she’s from the Laguna Pueblo and a lot of our staff are actually family.”

The Interior Department did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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