1. Update
  2. Native Americans, Environment & Energy

Drilling Sacred Lands: A Monumental Disgrace

By Nurah Jaradat, July 24, 2019


Two national monuments are facing potential pollution, contamination, and desecration. When the administration revoked the protected status of Bears Ears Monument and Chaco Canyon, it opened the land to drilling and mining putting the environment at risk while breaching the trust and sovereignty of tribal nations.

Bears Ears Monument and Chaco Canyon are sacred sites that must be protected. By revoking their status as monuments, these sites are made vulnerable to desecration by visitors who may not know what is and is not sacred. Even now, as lawsuits against the President’s decision remain in the courts, the influx of visitors is wreaking untold damage across these sacred sites.

Bears Ears Monument

President Trump’s 2017 decision to shrink the boundaries of the Bears Ears Monument left 85 percent of the land unprotected.

Bear ears at dawn

The increased tourism has already begun to damage the site. There are no signs directing foot traffic, no bathrooms for visitors, and no signage identifying cultural treasures to avoid. If plans to drill and mine the land for natural gas and uranium continue, the results would be environmentally and culturally devastating. Natural habitats and landmarks would be irrevocably marred, all while toxic emissions foul the air.

The damage incurred by the theft of this land, the desecration of these sites and sacred artifacts, and the environmental implications on the nearby tribes cannot be undone.

In an effort to protect Bears Ears from further desecration, Reps. Ruben Gallego (AZ-07) and Den Haaland (NM-01) have re-introduced the Bears Ears Expansion and Respect for Sovereignty Act of 2019 (H.R. 871). This bill has more than 100 co-sponsors and is endorsed by five local tribes: the Hopi Nation, Ute Indian Tribe, Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, and Zuni tribe. This bill would restore the original boundaries of the monument as defined under President Obama, and would expand the monument to encompass the 1.9 million acres of land recognized by local Indigenous tribes.

Chaco Canyon

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is home to ruins once inhabited by more than 7,000 people. Within the park you can find historic villages, networks of roads, irrigation systems, and a visitor’s center. This federal landmark encompasses 34,000 acres of cultural and archaeological sites. The 900,000-acre area surrounding the park is not federally protected but is similarly culturally important and situated on a mix of federal, state, and tribal land.

The Federal Government announced plans to lease land for oil and gas drilling near Chaco Culture National Historical Park in January of this year. Roughly 45,000 acres of this fracking site fall within the greater Chaco area and would affect the local tribes and nations’ historical sites.

In April, New Mexico Senators Mark Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act (S. 1079), and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (NM-03) introduced the companion bill (H.R. 2181) in the House. This legislation would withdraw the land surrounding the historical park from further drilling or mining by the Bureau of Land Management. This bill is endorsed by Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, and recently passed in the House Natural Resources Committee.

Our Role as Friends

As Quakers we stand with Indigenous tribes and nations in advocating for their self-determination. It is necessary, and part of addressing our own historic role in the oppression of Native populations, that we recognize and respect tribal autonomy and take a stand against the violation of Indigenous rights. Congress should pass these bills and thus protect land against the dangers of drilling and mining that harm our environment and undermine Indigenous sovereignty.

Nurah Jaradat

  • 2019 Summer Intern, Domestic Policy/Native American Advocacy Program

A double Political Science and Latin American Studies major, Nurah is a rising senior at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Last year Nurah studied in Argentina at the University of Buenos Aires. Nurah is a member of Students for Justice in Palestine and counts French, Spanish and Arabic as their proficient languages. Nurah is from Amherst, MA.