Navajo president criticizes Biden administration after it bans new mine leasing around Chaco Canyon

By Michel Marizco
Published: Friday, June 2, 2023 - 1:10pm

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.

The Navajo Nation’s government criticized the U.S. Department of the Interior for protecting a swath of Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico from new oil and gas leasing for the next 20 years. 

On Friday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the protection for Chaco Culture National History Park on the Navajo Nation. In this public relations video, Interior said tribes wanted the protection.

"The move responds to decades of efforts from Tribes, elected officials, and the public to better protect the sacred and historic sites and Tribal communities currently living in northwest New Mexico," the department said in a press release.

But Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren says Haaland’s decision undermines Navajo sovereignty. In a statement, he said her decision disregards the Navajo’s own decision and impacts 5,600 Navajo Nation allotment owners. The tribe had wanted a five-mile area protected; Haaland created a 10-mile buffer. 

“Despite the Navajo Nation’s position, Secretary Haaland proceeded to issue this decision one day after the Navajo Nation commemorated our Treaty Day, which recognizes the Treaty of 1868 and the start of the government-to-government relationship between the Navajo Nation and the United States. The Secretary’s action undermines our sovereignty and self-determination,” Nygren's statement said.

He called on the Biden administration to reconsider its decision.