Hundreds of Faith & Indigenous Leaders Urge Increased Protections around Chaco Canyon

SANTA E, N.M. -- More that 250 faith and Indigenous leaders from across the nation sent a letter to Secretary Deb Haaland in support of increased protections for the Greater Chaco Landscape, including the Biden Administration’s proposed withdrawal of federal lands within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical park from future oil and gas drilling for 20 years. The letter, spearheaded by Rev. Andrew Black, public lands field director at the National Wildlife Federation, thanks the Secretary for the proposed withdrawal and urges its final approval.  

“As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Chaco Canyon tells an ancient and powerful story of the rich history, culture, spirituality and resiliency of Indigenous communities throughout the American Southwest. Since time immemorial, these communities have had a deep and sacred connection to the land, water, and wildlife of this important area. It is our moral responsibility as a nation, and our sacred task as spiritual leaders to be responsible stewards of creation and work to protect places of such remarkable cultural, spiritual, historical and ecological significance,” the signers wrote in their letter. 

Chaco Canyon has dealt with the consequences of oil and gas drilling through diminished water and air quality, which put local and Indigenous communities at risk for developing illnesses, such as asthma and cancer. The withdrawal would safeguard public health and also ensure the protection of roughly 350,000 acres of wildlife habitat and thousands of archaeological and cultural sites. This land has been historically, spiritually, and ecologically significant to Indigenous communities for hundreds of years, and its protection is critical.  

Signers of the letter include leaders from more than 30 different spiritual and faith traditions. "Spiritual leaders across the country are united in calling for protection of Chaco Canyon and in applauding the Biden Administration’s plan to ban oil and gas development in a buffer zone around Chaco to ensure that these sacred lands and waters, diverse wildlife and important cultural areas are safeguarded for future generations,” said Black, who also heads up the faith conservation group EarthKeepers 360. "The breadth and depth of this support truly is a testament to how important Chaco Canyon is as a place of national significance with incredible history, culture, spirituality, and wildlife.” 

Currently, the Bureau of Land Management is conducting a public comment period for people to voice their support of the withdrawal. The deadline for comment is May 6. 

Several spiritual leaders released statements detailing their support.

"All religious traditions are called to care for our land, water, air, and communities as a sacred trust. Saint Francis of Assisi invites us to listen to ‘our sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us.’ Our Native American brothers and sisters have listened to Mother Earth from time immemorial and now we must stand in solidarity to care for our Holy Mother Earth and special places like Chaco Canyon. We cannot continue to destroy our sacred trust."  Sister Joan Brown, osf, Executive Director, New Mexico & El Paso Interfaith Power and Light.

“When protection comes from spiritual leaders it works holistically. When we work together for protection of sacred sites, I know we have joint efforts going towards these issues focused on protecting Chaco as a place of prayer and for the powerpoints of Chaco. We talk about saving sacred ground from oil and gas drilling within a ten mile buffer zone so now we jointly gather to express our protective thoughts and express our joint concerns and requests. It takes resolve through prayer for such a request  to be resolved.” Joseph Brophy Toledo - Flower Hill Institute and member of Jemez Pueblo. 

“Chaco Canyon holds religious significance that spans Tribes, borders and continents. Fracking equates to a serious violation against Mother Earth. The preservation of Chaco Canyon is vital for the development of a healing dialogue between Tribal, state and federal relations, which have carried a long history of indigenous culture and land exploitation for corporate benefits. Over development undermines this area and violates the protections and treaties of our Tribal nations that  were set forth by the same government that has historically tried to erase this sacred place and cultural heritage sites that don’t belong to them.” Chaplain Joseph L Villegas, Sr. - Texas Band of Yaqui Indians.

“Supporting the well being of land is a sacred task, as recognized by numerous faith traditions. Land is something all humans have in common--we walk on land, we grow on land, we are sustained by the land. Chaco Canyon is a place where that sense of the sacredness of land has been honored for generations. Our duty and responsibility is to stand in solidarity with those who know and care for that land most intimately.” Reverend Craig Topple, Chaplain, St. Mary's Health and Highland Hills Village, Athens, Georgia & Pastor, Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church, Statham, Georgia 



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