Our Story - The Indigenous Led Fight to Protect Greater Chaco
Ninety percent of the available lands in the Greater Chaco have already been leased for oil and gas extraction. Over the course of three years, Navajo and Pueblo leadership including Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), Julia Bernal (Sandia Pueblo), and Navajo Nation Council Delegate and co-director Daniel Tso have been intimately collaborating to tell their stories in this film as they struggle to protect what little remains of this sacred landscape, including the World Heritage Site Chaco National Historical Park in the SW United States.
Our Story emerges from a long-standing collaboration between local Diné leaders in the Greater Chaco region, Pueblo organizers, and a small team of community-engaged filmmakers to share the story of the Indigenous-led fight to protect this sacred landscape. This effort is closely aligned with the Greater Chaco Coalition, and the film team endorses the coalition’s primer and platform.
Greater Chaco Coalition Primer
The Greater Chaco region is a living and ancient cultural landscape. A thousand years ago, Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico was the ceremonial and economic center of the Chaco Cultural Landscape, an area encompassing more than 75,000 square miles of the Southwest in NM, AZ, CO and UT and sacred to Indigenous Peoples. Today, Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico is a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the Americas, yet the vast majority of the area is leased to oil and gas activities. Indigenous People, primarily Pueblo and Navajo (Diné) peoples, sacred cultural sites, precious water resources, and the area’s biodiversity are all under a grave and growing threat from fracking.
For over a century, the federal government has quite literally treated the Greater Chaco Landscape like a national energy sacrifice zone. The region has been victim to large-scale resource exploitation, which includes a history of Navajo displacement and land repatriation that has carved the Greater Chaco Landscape into a complex checkerboard of federal, state, private, and Navajo allotment land. A maze of federal and state agencies control the area, which has allowed oil, gas, and mining companies to exploit layers of law, regulations, and oversight agencies. A recent boom of industrialized fracking across New Mexico has made it the second-biggest oil producer in the United States, with more than 91% of available lands in the Greater Chaco area leased for fracking.
Fracking disproportionately harms Indigenous communities due to their socioeconomic status; their unique relationship to the land, specifically to water; and their exposure to the harmful effects of colonization and racism. Navajo families experience fractures in their community including increased truck traffic, road degradation, infrastructure decline and failures, increased noise and light pollution, health impacts, decreased air and water quality, degrading water quality, unsafe conditions for livestock, destruction of sacred sites, and other associated impacts. Fracking spills, leaks, and explosions happen daily.
The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) first admitted it needed to update its 2003 resource management plan in 2014, since the outdated plan lacked adequate Tribal consultation and failed to consider the impacts of newly industrialized fracking on the landscape. After 10 public meetings held from 2016-to 2017, the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs released a first-of-its-kind scoping report which promised the pending management plan would finally address environmental and social justice issues as well as the cumulative impacts of fracking in the region. But the yet-to-be finalized plan, released in 2020 amidst the coronavirus pandemic with limited public access, remains squarely focused on facilitating more industrialized fracking in the area, proposing over 3,000 new wells. In the meantime, agencies continue to rubber-stamp more fracking activities with no plan in place to protect the region’s cultural landscape and without adequate consultation with the public in general and with Navajo Chapter Houses and Navajo Allotment Land Owners in particular.