NM Faith Leaders Join Call to Protect Chaco Canyon

More than a thousand years ago, Indigenous people created a vibrant community at Chaco Canyon, in what is modern-day New Mexico, where they celebrated spiritual traditions, observed the heavens using ancient observatories, and developed an urban center unlike any other. For more than 300 years, the people of Chaco worked extensive agricultural lands, built massive stone buildings containing hundreds of rooms, worshiped in ceremonial kivas and created a powerful economic center for the region.

Today, Chaco Canyon continues to be a place of prayer, healing and pilgrimage for many pueblo and tribal communities throughout the nation. 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. The sweeping desert landscapes that surround Chaco provide critical wildlife habitat for a diverse array of species ranging from elk and mule deer to cougars and bobcats and a wide variety of birds, reptiles and plants. Put simply, Chaco Canyon is an unparalleled treasure of cultural, spiritual, historical and ecological values.

Unfortunately, in recent years, excessive oil and gas development near Chaco has put all of this in jeopardy. The roads, pipelines and other infrastructure fragment critical wildlife habitat and threaten water supplies, while continuous development and the use of fracking threaten some of the most important pre-Columbian artifacts in the nation. A health impact study released last summer has also shown that methane and other toxins released from the oil and gas sites near Chaco have caused numerous negative health impacts for the children and families living in the region.

As faith leaders from New Mexico, we must speak up to ensure this spectacular sacred region is cared for into the generations. It is our moral responsibility as a nation, and our sacred task as spiritual leaders, to speak out and work to protect places of such remarkable cultural, spiritual, historical and ecological significance. Thus, we are writing in strong support of increased protections for the cultural treasures, wildlife and local communities of the Chaco Canyon from the serious harms that are posed by runaway oil and gas development.

The Biden administration has proposed a 10-mile buffer zone around the Chaco Culture National Historical Park where new oil and gas leasing on federal lands would be banned. This will safeguard thousands of sacred sites that lay in and around the park, protect 350,000 acres of wildlife habitat and unique biodiversity, and ensure cleaner air, land and water for nearby communities. The administration is also working with Indigenous and community leaders to find ways to better manage existing energy development while building a more collaborative management system that can lead to a sustainable economic future for the region.

We understand that people are concerned about higher gas prices and jobs, but being good stewards requires us to be smart about when, how, where and what energy is developed. Threatening an ancient cultural treasure with increased development is short-sighted and unconscionable – and it’s why the protective buffer zone must be created.

The administration is currently soliciting feedback from the public about the proposal to ban new leases in the Chaco region. We have joined over 250 other faith leaders from around the country in supporting the administration’s common-sense plan to protect one of the most magnificent sacred landscapes in the American Southwest. We hope all people of faith will join us in this support.


Meet the Authors


Rev. Andrew Black

National Wildlife Federation Public lands Field director
Executive director of Earthkeepers 360


Josephy Brophy Toledo

Cultural Advisor and Spiritual Leader from The Jemez Pueblo

Sister Joan

Sister Joan Brown

Executive Director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light

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