Anti-energy left co-opts tribal land disputes
Native American activists and tribal leaders from around New Mexico are joining the chorus of environmentalists who have been fighting for years to stop oil and gas development.They seem determined to remain poor and ignorant. They are falling prey to the anti-energy left's misguided reaction to energy development. They are missing an opportunity to develop the land because they resorted to real estate worship rather than common sense.
This time, opponents are spurred by a proposed ordinance that would regulate drilling in one sparsely populated county.
They are part of a groundswell as tribes across the U.S. organize around land issues, from a pipeline in North Dakota and the disputed boundaries of a national monument in Utah to concerns about the encroachment of energy development in an area of the Southwest dotted with archaeological sites tied to a civilization that gave rise to many of the region's modern tribes.
At a contentious meeting late last week, Ahjani Yepa of Jemez Pueblo spoke about the connection between her people and the land, spurring fellow activists in the crowd to raise their fists in solidarity.
"As with many cultures and religions, we do not have a book to guide us. The land is our Bible. Once it is gone, you cannot print another copy," she told members of the Sandoval County Commission.
Her almost breathless plea came as Native Americans wage their latest battle against policymakers over drilling regulations.
There are concerns that the Trump administration will relax rules that have provided a buffer around Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico, and that altering the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah could lead to more development and compromise the aboriginal lands of the five tribes that sought the monument designation.
In the Dakotas, tribes are still pushing to bolster water protections following the completion of a pipeline that spurred months of protests and resulted in hundreds of arrests.
University of Colorado law professor Sarah Krakoff, who specializes in American Indian law and natural resources and public land law, said the protests, resolutions and other showings by tribal leaders and activists represent the latest manifestation of self-determination for Native Americans.
"What's interesting about this next phase of tribal self-determination and self-governance is the recognition that a lot of what tribes care about and a lot of what affects them deeply are decisions about the land outside of their official reservation boundaries," she said.