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Pueblo Nations chairman: Chaco Canyon decision had ‘nothing to do with hurting the Navajo Nation’

By Gabriel Pietrorazio
Published: Friday, December 8, 2023 - 8:05am
Updated: Friday, December 8, 2023 - 1:25pm

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Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

Fajada Butte is a butte in Chaco Culture
National Park Service
Fajada Butte is a butte in Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

A tribal dispute over a sacred site in northwest New Mexico followed a recent decision by the Biden administration to protect that land from gas and oil mining.

Chairman Mark Mitchell of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, who represents 20 sovereign pueblo Nations in New Mexico and Texas, attended this week's third annual White House Tribal Nations Summit.

“It gives hope to tribal governments of a better tomorrow. We will have a seat at the table when projects are coming down, to save the landscape, to have tribal input,” Mitchell told KJZZ. “It's something that will help the tribes from coast-to-coast and border-to-border, because for too long, we’ve been ignored.”

His hope for a better tomorrow came through a victory this summer when the Biden administration banned drilling for two decades on a 10-mile buffer zone at Chaco Canyon. It’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered sacred by Mitchell and his communities.

But the Navajo Nation voiced its disappointment with President Joe Biden’s decision. And Navajo President Buu Nygren has expressed that he personally wasn’t consulted enough by the U.S. Department of the Interior before the new ruling.

“It had nothing to do with hurting the Navajo Nation,” said Mitchell. “It was everything to do with protecting the landscape of our ancestors, and the footprints that are left.”

An estimated 5,600 Navajo allotment owners are impacted by the federal ban.

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