ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - It's a sort of homecoming for U.S. Interior Secretary Deb haaland has spent months talking to Native American leaders and hosting public meetings about slowing down the pace of oil development in the San Juan Basin.
On Sunday, her return to Chaco Culture National Historical Park was meant to celebrate Biden's recent decision that will enshrine in law for the next twenty years the informal buffer of 10 miles (16 kilometers) around the World Heritage Site.
Haaland's Pueblo of Laguna, located about 100 miles south of the park, is one of those who have fought for a large area of land outside of the park boundaries. Haaland calls Chaco a place of deep significance for Indigenous people who lived there in the past.
Haaland stated in a recent statement that tribal communities had been concerned about the impact of new development on areas with deep cultural connections.
Not everyone is happy.
Navajo leaders claim that Haaland, and the Biden Administration have ignored their efforts to find a compromise which would have created a smaller buffer zone to protect cultural sites as well as preserve the viability of the tribal land and individual parcels owned and developed by Navajos in the future.
The region is a patchwork made up of many different owners. The Biden administration's decision to withdraw only applies to federal land. However, Navajo officials as well as allotment holders said that their interests would now be landlocked.
In a statement released on Thursday, Navajo president Buu Nygren stated that the weekend celebrations were disappointing and disrespectful. He said that the weekend celebration should have been cancelled.
Nygren stated that the financial and economic losses suffered by many Navajos families due to the recent withdrawal of public lands by Secretary Nygren are not something to be celebrated. 'As leaders in the Navajo Nation we support the Navajo land allottees that oppose this withdrawal.
Crystalyne Curley, the Navajo Nation Council's Speaker, said that despite claims by the federal government allotment holders were not properly consulted.
Several industry groups have also backed the Navajos. Some claim that Haaland is conflicted of interest in oil and gas policy.
Just days after the Chaco ruling, a Republican-led U.S. House Committee announced that it would look into the secretary's connections to an Indigenous environmental organization that has been protesting fossil fuels.
A coalition of Native American and environmental activists, who fought for the restrictions, have applauded Haaland’s order. They see it as an important first step to protect cultural sites and the area from pollution and climate changes. The coalition continues to push for legislation which would formalize a buffer zone around the park. This area covers more than 490 sq km (1,269 sq mi) of federal land.
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The Interior Department published a report last fall that shows the withdrawal will not affect current leases. In addition, much of the land the industry is interested in for future development has already been leased or lies outside of the boundaries of the withdrawn area.