ignoring court ruling, BLM gives Big Oil permits to drill Chaco Canyon

Around here, we call the BLM the ‘Bureau of Livestock and Mining’.  Every year they seem more committed to changing even National Monument area into ‘multiple use’ areas (read: multiple abuse).  While I’ve been working on this piece for a couple days, I’d almost postponed its publication after being outraged at the ‘News’ over the past two days, including ahead of ‘Independence Day’. Some of you may want a break from the nasty zeitgeist afoot as well.

After featuring bits from the title, I’ll be delving further into the Chacoan culture below the fold…if you don’t care to read that far.

From nationofchange.org, June 24, 2019, Carmen Gucwa
“This ancestral Indigenous land is now a checkerboard of state, federal, private, and Indigenous land.”

“Last month, Indigenous and environmental activists won a crucial court victory against the Bureau of Land Management  after tirelessly waging a years-long fight for the preservation of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.The struggle is still not over.

Chaco Canyon and its surrounding area, the Greater Chaco Landscape, are of great importance for their archeological and natural features, and hold cultural and historical importance to the Navajo Nation and Pueblo Indian tribes of the region. Currently, it is under immense pressure from oil and gas development that wants to loot these Indigenous ancestral lands.

In May, the 10th District U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the BLM has been illegally approving oil and gas drilling in the Greater Chaco area. In 2015, four environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the BLM to stop fracking in the region.

The court ruling is part of a succession of important developments in the efforts to protect Chaco Canyon from environmental degradation and the destruction of Indigenous cultural sites. In April, grassroots efforts pressured the state Land Commissioner, Stephanie Garcia Richard, to sign an executive order enacting a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on state trust lands in the Chaco area.

However, in total defiance of the Court of Appeals ruling, the BLM continues to issue permits for drilling on federal lands. The agency recently issued permits for 40 new wells and 22 miles of pipeline in the Crow Mesa Wildlife Area, 30 miles from Chaco Canyon.

“Despite the site being protected by its national park status, most of the land surrounding it has been open to drilling and fracking. Under the Trump administration, significant rollbacks on environmental protections have renewed the aggressive push for drilling and the leasing of public lands.”

Gucwa writes that given the area is such a jurisdictional checkerboard, it makes legal accountability conveniently vague.

“Even more ridiculous is that Chaco lands are “split estate,” meaning that even on Indigenous-owned land, the colonial status of Indigenous peoples is such that a private company authorized by the federal government can drill under the surface and extract anything they want.

She notes that the local residents never see a jot of the billions New Mexico earns from oil and gas revenues, , even though the surrounding towns are dirt poor.  Not only the new jobs claimed by drilling companies a sick joke, but by destroying the land and water, fracking is also destroying the ability of farmers and pastoralists to continue to survive.

She cites fracking and horizontal drilling (does she mean ‘diagonal drilling?) having caused earthquakes in Oklahoma, flammable tap water in Pennsylvania, and I’ll add to that: flammable well water in the county just east of us (southern La Plata county).

“Fires and explosions at drilling sites in Chaco have pushed many activists to action. Activists have been able to stop the sale of federal land to the oil and gas industry three times since fracking was first proposed in 2012.

Under a capitalist state, there is never a guarantee that sacred lands will be protected because profits come before all else. Although key victories have been won, activists will continue to fight for permanent protections for Chaco Canyon.”

Now some First Americans take exception to any exclusionary zones.

Navajo Allottees Defend Mineral Rights And Cultural Heritage In Opposition To Exclusionary Zone Near Chaco Canyon’, Michael Sandoval, westernwire.net,  June 6, 2019

“A bill to halt oil and gas development via a 10-mile exclusionary zone surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park drew opposition from local residents and the representative governments located nearby at a subcommittee hearing yesterday.

H.R. 2181, sponsored by New Mexico’s Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D), calls for an end to oil and gas development and other mineral resource extraction in a 10-mile exclusionary zone surrounding the Chaco Culture park located in New Mexico.

Delora Hesuse, a Navajo allottee with private mineral rights gifted to her forebears, testified in opposition to H.R. 2181 before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Wednesday.

“Many people don’t understand our Native American heritage and the fact that many individual Navajo Nation members such as I own private lands and the minerals underneath them,” Hesuse told the committee. But the access, development, and production of mineral resources means more than just private property rights but stands as a substantial source of income for Hesuse and her fellow allottees, she said.

“This is a steadfast personal property right that sustains our livelihoods and way of life. H.R. 2181 would put many of our mineral rights off limits and stop a much-needed source of income to feed, shelter, clothe and protect our families. I’m not exaggerating the importance of this income. In 2015, the Federal Indian Minerals Office distributed $96 million to 20,835 allottees. That’s a significant source of income in an area that continues to struggle with unemployment,” she added.

“My ancestors were allotted the land and mineral rights by the United States government many generations ago, and it pains me to see that my own leaders, both tribal and in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, are supporting a bill that would put my oil and natural gas rights off limits and/or seriously prevent my family from receiving income from the valuable energy resources that we own,” Hesuse continued.”  and so on.


But back to Ms. Gukwa.  I was a bit curious as to her including the Navajo Nation (Dineh) into the cultural and historical importance, but indeed, the National Park’s ‘History and Culture’ page says the same thing.

‘What was at the heart of this great social experiment? Pueblo descendants say that Chaco was a special gathering place where many peoples and clans converged to share their ceremonies, traditions, and knowledge. Chaco is central to the origins of several Navajo clans and ceremonies. Chaco is also an enduring enigma for researchers. Was Chaco the hub of a turquoise-trading network established to acquire macaws, copper bells, shells, and other commodities from distant lands? Did Chaco distribute food and resources to growing populations when the climate failed them? Was Chaco “the center place,” binding a region together by a shared vision? We may never fully understand Chaco.

In the 1100s and 1200s, change came to Chaco as new construction slowed and Chaco’s role as a regional center shifted. Chaco’s influence continued at Aztec, Mesa Verde, the Chuska Mountains, and other centers to the north, south, and west. In time, the people shifted away from Chacoan ways, migrated to new areas, reorganized their world, and eventually interacted with foreign cultures. Their descendants are the modern Southwest Indians. Many Southwest Indian people look upon Chaco as an important stop along their clans’ sacred migration paths-a spiritual place to be honored and respected.’

‘Southwest Indians’  and ‘eventually interacted with foreign cultures’ are rather grotesque catch-all errors in language,  but at least other cliff-and-table-top dwellers are now known as ‘ancestral Puebloans’ rather then the Navajo (Dineh) slur: ‘Anasazi’, or ‘ancient enemies’.

Still curious, I’d bingled and found this from the Navajo Times: ‘Chaco Canyon: ‘There is, indeed, a Navajo connection to the place’ Alastair Lee Bitsoi, June 27, 2013:

“Visiting Chaco Canyon had always been on my to-do list as it plays a significant role in Navajo history and also because it’s about 50 miles directly east of Naschitti, N.M., where I call home, a place I never had been.

Not only did I want to experience the solstice and celebrate the season of summer, but what other way than to celebrate my season of birth. I’m a Leo, for the record.

Initially, I didn’t know if visiting Chaco was such a good idea, because of the “yiiyaa” that most traditional Navajos would associate the extinct Chacoan culture with.

However, through past recreational reading, in which I learned there was a prominent Navajo presence in Chaco, I thought, “Navajos lived there and there are ceremonies such as the Night Way and oral stories, like the Great Gambler, that cite Chaco Canyon as a place of ancestral significance.”

The Kinyaa’aanii clan, which is my paternal clan, or my father’s clan, is also reported to have originated from there, according to Navajo oral history (see separate story).”, etc.

Without being able to find the definition of ‘yiiyaa’ (an approximation, as the language was spoken, not written), I’m assuming that Hosteen Bistoi had been speaking about chindi, or the malevolent spirits that leave bodies at the moment of death, which is the reason that whenever possible, the dying are moved outside to release that spirit into the great unknown. 

And what you won’t find at the Chaco Canyon Nat’l Park website is this very touchy, complicated and incendiary subject: evidence of cannibalism.  A very long story short: a few physical anthropologists had discovered human bones in cooking pots that indicated that the flesh had been eaten…by other humans.  Accusations among competing anthropologists spread like wildfire until some dessicated human scat (coprolite) was found at a site known as ‘Cowboy Wash’ beneath the Sleeping Ute Mountain in SW Colorado west of us.  More buzzing and flame-throwing ensued until one scientist figured a way to test it (and other samples): Courtesy of Preston Child, Nov. 30, 1998 (the long saga):

“He finally decided to test the coprolite for the presence of human myoglobin, a protein that is found only in skeletal and heart muscle, and could not get into the intestinal tract except through eating.”

And of course none of the Ancestral Puebloans want their peaceful histories besmirched by charges of cannibalism, especially the Hopi, but even while there are any number of competing theories of why and by whom cannibalism had been practiced so long ago, as well as why Chaco Canyon had been abandoned in the 1200s, this makes the most sense to me:

Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico

“Turner directed his attention to central Mexico, to the empire of the Toltecs–the precursors of the Aztecs–which lasted from about 800 to 1100 A.D. Central Mexico, he writes, developed a “very powerful, dehumanizing sociopolitical and ideological complex,” centered on human sacrifice and cannibalism used as a form of social control. Furthermore, cannibalism spread from central Mexico “into the jungle world of the Mayas and the desert world of Chichimeca” in northern Mexico. Turner concludes, “It takes nearly blind faith in the effectiveness of geographical distance … to believe that this complex and its adherents failed to reach the American Southwest.”

During the Toltec period, Turner hypothesizes, a heavily armed group of “thugs,” “tinkers,” or perhaps even “Manson party types” (as he put it to me in various conversations) headed north, to the region we refer to as the American Southwest. “They entered the San Juan Basin around A.D. 900,” he surmises in “Man Corn,” and “found a suspicious but pliant population whom they terrorized into reproducing the theocratic lifestyle they had previously known in Mesoamerica.”

I do disagree with Turner on the timing, though; it makes much more sense that the Toltecs arrived at Chaco to control the populace not long before The People fled.  But if you’re interested, you can read Preston Child’s link and decide for yourselves. 

But this is truly awesome from such an ancient civilization:

“During the middle and late 800s, the great houses of Pueblo Bonito, Una Vida, and Peñasco Blanco were constructed, followed by Hungo Pavi, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Alto, and others. These structures were often oriented to solar, lunar, and cardinal directions. Lines of sight between the great houses allowed communication. Sophisticated astronomical markers, communication features, water control devices, and formal earthen mounds surrounded them. The buildings were placed within a landscape surrounded by sacred mountains, mesas, and shrines that still have deep spiritual meaning for their descendants.”

(Click for larger)

The Mystery of Chaco Canyon (the trailer)

You may have already seen this tour of Chaco narrated by Robert Redford in which he shows us at length what brilliant astronomers and cosmologist the Chacoans were.  Oddly, the entire documentary isn’t on youtube, but I did just discover a way one can download two versions (home and educational) to watch at solsticeproject.org.  Part of the blurb at the link:

“THE MYSTERY OF CHACO CANYON examines the deep enigmas presented by the massive prehistoric remains found in Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico. It is the summation of 20 years of research. The film reveals that between 850 and 1150 AD, the Chacoan people designed and constructed massive ceremonial buildings in a complex celestial pattern throughout a vast desert region. Aerial and time lapse footage, computer modeling, and interviews with scholars show how the Chacoan culture designed, oriented and located its major buildings in relationship to the sun and moon. Pueblo Indians, descendants of the Chacoan people, regard Chaco as a place where their ancestors lived in a sacred past. Pueblo leaders speak of the significance of Chaco to the Pueblo world today.

The film challenges the notion that Chaco Canyon was primarily a trade and redistribution center. Rather it argues that it was a center of astronomy and cosmology and that a primary purpose for the construction of the elaborate Chacoan buildings and certain roads was to express astronomical interests and to be integral parts of a celestial patterning.

While the Chacoans left no written text to help us to understand their culture, their thoughts are preserved in the language of their architecture, roads and light markings. Landscape, directions, sun and moon, and movement of shadow and light were the materials used by the Chacoan architects and builders to express their knowledge of an order in the universe.”

(cross-posted at caucus99percent.com)

2 responses to “ignoring court ruling, BLM gives Big Oil permits to drill Chaco Canyon

  1. Pray, tell me, how selling off your mineral and oil rights contributes to continue living in the “OLD WAYS” Did our ancestors have oil money to purchase four wheeler’s?, Snow machines? running water, washers and dryers? It seems to me that seal oil lamps were the order of the day. People really need to read Farley Mowat’s books, like “People of the Deer” Mr. Mowat lived his books. To me, the old ways are lived by example, food, clothing, and shelter, and allowing your entertainment to issue forth from one’s own mind……

    • mornin’, alaskaman. nice rant, and i agree. the other part of the story depends on who’s telling the story of the massive amounts of coal mined at black mesa and burned at the navajo generating station. peabody uses/used millions of aquifer water a day to wash and slurry the coal.

      some claim the hopi eventually signed w/ peabody, too, but one story says that it was a peabody man who pretended to be a representative for the hopi, although there are so many rather hopi villages that calling anyone that…is problematic. i dunno what the final outcome was, but intertwined w/ all that has been the epic navajo v. hopi land dispute…so they do continue to be enemies of a sort.

      i remember amy goodman having had dineh klee banally on her show to bat for his side; pfffft.

      but how odd. i read at least one of mowatt’s books, but in my dotage…i can’t remember if it had been that one. but anyway, the navajo have been hooked on coal for a long time, even though peabody doesn’t play nice paying the tribe/tribes for it. which reminds me of an old john prine song, of course.

      hope you and yours are doin’ okay, my friend.

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