In the seemingly never-ending quest to demonize oil and gas interests, the nation’s Native American tribes are often trotted out and held up as universally opposed to exploration. That’s not the case, as Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma recently found out.
The Chaco Canyon Buffer
In New Mexico, new legislation titled HR 2181 would add a 10-mile “exclusionary” zone around Chaco Canyon National Park. The sole purpose of the bill would be the total eradication of oil and gas drilling in the area.
The loudest opposition to HR 2181 is coming not from oil and gas industry personnel, but from nearby residents outraged that their opinions weren’t considered. In June, Navajo allottee Delora Hesuse testified before a House committee:
“Many people don’t understand our Native American heritage and the fact that many individual Navajo Nation members such as I own private lands and the minerals underneath them … This is a steadfast personal property right that sustains our livelihoods and way of life. HR 2181 would put many of our mineral rights off-limits and stop a much-needed source of income to feed, shelter, clothe, and protect our families. I’m not exaggerating the importance of this income.
“In 2015, the Federal Indian Minerals Office distributed $96 million to 20,835 allottees. That’s a significant source of income in an area that continues to struggle with unemployment.”
That’s averages out to about $5,000 per allottee, a considerable sum of money for families struggling to keep a roof over their head.
Discontent Among the Navajo
A few weeks ago, Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma visited Chico Canyon National Park and the oil fields that are threatened by HR 2181. In a meeting with Senate Indian Affairs Committee staff and allottees from the Nageezi Chapter of the Navajo Nation, Sgamma was struck by the passion of the Navajo argument.
These landowners rightfully feel as though their needs were ignored when legislators were drafting the bill. Now, thousands of allottees are facing the very real possibility that essential income won’t be distributed among families this year.
Continuing to Fight Against HR 2181
In her letter to members, Sgamma stressed the importance of protecting the property rights of these landowners, writing, “These lands and minerals are private property owned by Native Americans who are also U.S. citizens with full private property rights.” To remove their ability to choose the use for their land is tantamount to taking away the Navajo’s rights.
Like so many recent bouts of legislation in states that rely heavily on oil and gas income, HR 2181 is threatening the well-being of New Mexico’s residents as politicians plunge forward on their ill-conceived campaign to stamp out energy derived from fossil fuels.