Navajo Allottees Visit DC to Garner Support For Chaco Canyon Energy Development
Navajo allottees are visiting Washington, D.C. this week to speak with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and congressional lawmakers in the hope of reforming a proposal to severely restrict energy development on tribal lands outside of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
The tribal members say the Chaco Culture Heritage Protection Act, which would create a 10-mile buffer zone around the Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, runs against legislation passed by the Navajo Nation’s tribal council and would have significant consequences for the tribe’s economy.
“The purpose of this trip is to educate Congress about the official position of the Navajo Nation on the proposed buffer zone bills which the Navajo Nation does not support,” Danny Simpson, one of the allottees, told Western Wire.
Last fall, the House passed the bill and Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Lujan boasted about removing more than 316,000 acres from oil and natural gas development. Now, Simpson and a delegation of allottees want lawmakers to know the impact of Congress’ action.
The families of many Navajo tribal members, including Simpson, were allotted mineral rights decades ago and the development of these resources is a key source of revenue for many. Though these allotments are located on tribal land, many of them lie within the 10-mile buffer zone proposed by the House.
In January, allottees from the Chaco area persuaded Navajo Nation Resource Development Committee (RDC) to support a smaller five-mile buffer zone. By a 18-1 vote, the committee passed a resolution stating the tribe would withhold approval of the congressional legislation until the buffer zone was reduced. But the allottees say this request, which is legally binding under Navajo law, is being ignored by lawmakers.
“They’re saying the bill was written with consideration for all allottees, but it’s not,” Delora Hesuse, an-other allottee traveling to D.C. this week, told Western Wire. “They keep saying that we’re fine, but the thing is with all these lands that are near our allotment still we can’t transport our oil. So they took off the BLM land and the state lands and there wasn’t any way to transport the oil that is coming from the allotment lands.”
To develop allotment lands, companies need access to adjoining parcels of federally-managed Bureau of Land Management and state lands. The legislation passed by the House in October would bar that access. Now the Senate is considering the bill and Hesuse and others want to make sure lawmakers under-stand the full impact their vote could have.
“I asked several times are they going to help us? Are they going to come out and distribute food with a food truck?” Hesuse asked. “Are they going to come out and bring hay and grain for our cattle? They’re not saying anything, but then again they want to support all this with the environmentalists.”
As they work with Congress to slow down the legislation, Hesuse, Simpson, and other allottees are finding confusion about the tribe’s official position on development is widespread. The tribe does not want to extend the moratorium, they explain, because of the impact it would have for both property owners and the surrounding communities.
Already regulatory uncertainty is slowing production in the region and leading to cuts in hours and shifts, effects the delegation hopes to bring to the forefront of the discussion during their time in Washington.
“What I find out when I go and drive 40 miles one way just to listen to a grandma in these Tri-Chapter areas is that they’re afraid that they’re going to lose their money and it really makes me upset that our own people want to do that to them,” said Hesuse. “That’s why I do what I do. It’s not for myself, it’s for the elders, for my relatives and of course for the next generation. I just don’t understand it