A Battle in a War: The People Stop Corporate Oil & Gas Law at Sandoval Co.

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by The Red Nation

As we continue actively organizing for a world free of settler colonial violence, it’s important we acknowledge the precedent-setting victories belonging to all people who come together to successfully protect our relatives and life-affirming resources, and celebrate the collective fight yet to come

The Red Nation and Pueblo Action Alliance continue to call to action all dispossessed, Indigenous, and oppressed people to stand against ongoing desecration and destruction of lands collectively sacred to our nations in the Greater Chaco Region. Sandoval County Commission’s proposed “Aquifer Protection and Oil and Gas Exploration and Development” ordinance is one battle won in this war.

The ordinance, a land-planning permitting document for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), had been overwhelmingly opposed by members of the Tri-Chapter communities, Pueblos with land within Sandoval County jurisdiction, state representatives, environmental and public health organizations, and citizens groups since 2015. Despite continual protest with Tri-Chapter community members at the forefront, the Commission refused over an entire year to implement within the Ordinance a tribal and community consultation policy that would require at the very least notification of permit applications to tribal nations, and those smaller, marginalized, historically disenfranchised, and largely land-based communities within Sandoval County. As a result of tribal and community consultation having not been conducted by the Commission during its development, the Ordinance would have also served to segregate and enable permissive-use drilling in communities already rampantly sacrificed to the extractive industry by the Bureau of Land Management, and allow oil and gas companies to operate with inadequate safeguards of precious natural resources including air, water, and soil. Damage to sacred sites would have been inevitable with the ordinance lacking recognition of tribal expertise in the identification and preservation of cultural and historic resources both on and off-site drilling operations. Meanwhile, other New Mexico municipal and county governments attended Commission meetings and observed the issue to gage its success and applicability.

We didn’t’t let that happen.

For the past year, The Red Nation and Pueblo Action Alliance have been demanding that the County not pass an ordinance without full, prior and informed consent of tribes, Pueblos, and community members first and worst impacted by these types of policies. On November 29th, our groups came together with a strategic plan to shut down the meeting hosted by commissioners who repeatedly refused to listen to their public and tribal constituents. However, in a surprising turn of events, the ordinance failed to obtain a second motion from commissioners to be considered. The ordinance fell dead — a first for a county fracking ordinance in New Mexico — with remarks by the commissioners of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association’s public threat to sue the County and the responsibility of the State of New Mexico to hold them accountable for continually trying to impose on what should have been an ordinance prioritizing protection of clean water.

Although the commission chambers filled with applause and discussion among citizens, tribal community members, state representatives, and tribal leaders about the next steps involving projects, county policies, and state legislation toward protecting the health, well-being, and longevity of our people and environment, we must remember that this win is only a battle within an ongoing war. While we have avoided this attempt by Sandoval County and the oil and gas industry to dispossess Native lands and disregard Native lives, the modern Indian land grab is far from over.

As we look across the state, we are reminded of this.

To the north, our lands and water sources continue to be significantly impacted by ongoing activities of the Los Alamos National Laboratory upon our homelands. The cumulative impact to our water, soil, air, food chain, and health of community members are unknown. In one of New Mexico’s biggest fires caused by the negligence in the maintenance of utility lines, our lands and cultural resources have been devastated in ways that only our prayers can convey. In the aftermath, floods deepened the scars upon our homelands and upon our minds and hearts. To the west, the violent impacts of the mining of uranium and coal and oil and gas development have been equally destructive.

The center place we know as Chaco Canyon and the Greater Chaco Landscape is equally desecrated and our people deeply traumatized and devastated by these colonial actions. As we continue to ask ourselves how to be better relatives to those who came before us and to generations forthcoming, we know it is only by prayer and action.

We continue to call on all Indigenous and oppressed people to stand with us at each and every occasion against colonial agendas that disregard our existence in an attempt to steal those lands and resources we rely on for life. The next action will be in preservation of 84,000 acres within the Greater Chaco Landscape against the Bureau of Management’s December 2018 Lease Sale taking place at the Santa Fe BLM Offices on December 5th at noon. Fighting to protect is the right thing to do, and we have every right and responsibility to do it.

It is an honor to defend our land and water.