House passage a ‘major step forward’ for protecting Chaco Canyon

A bill to establish a permanent 10-mile buffer around Chaco Canyon to protect it from oil and gas extraction activity passed the U.S. House on Wednesday with bipartisan support. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small, would prohibit oil and gas activity on nearly 500 square miles of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held land surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The bill passed 245-174, with all Democrats in the House voting in favor of the legislation, along with 17 Republicans. The legislation would withdraw BLM-held land within the 10-mile buffer around the Chaco Canyon park from future oil and gas development, but would not prevent the Navajo Nation or individuals with allotments in the buffer zone from pursuing energy development.

Oil Well and pump jack searchlight

The price of oil: Expanding development near Chaco raises health concerns

COUNSELOR — About halfway through a late-April Sunday service at the Living Spring Baptist Church, the sermon took an unusual turn. Pastor Tom Guerito’s exhortations to trust in God and resist sin, delivered mostly in Diné, gave way to a more earthly concern: oil and gas. “People say, ‘I smell it,’” Guerito told the 20 or so parishioners, who since 2012 have lived among an expanding constellation of oil and gas wells. But an air monitor installed nearby found nothing out of the ordinary, he said. “There’s nothing in the air.

Dire streets: Roadways and broken promises on the Navajo Nation

SANOSTEE, N.M. — Sharon Begay knows this road by heart. The 43-year-old mother of two has spent a lifetime memorizing the jagged surface and thuggish boulders that define Indian Service Route 5010. Locals just call it “the road” and gauge distances with landmarks: windmills, S-curves, a water tower covered with graffiti that once served as the town’s main source of gossip. It’s an unpaved byway in the Sanostee Chapter of the Navajo Nation that feeds a network of unnamed dirt roads, serving hundreds of families in the shadows of the Chuska Mountains. Generations of Begay’s family have herded sheep along this road; as a child she traveled it by horseback, alongside her father.

Governor, lawmakers pledge over $1.2 million for Code Talker museum

State Sen. John Pinto, a 94-year-old Democrat from Gallup, has long wanted to build a Navajo Code Talkers Museum and Visitors Center in New Mexico to honor the service of about 400 Navajo servicemen who used their language skills to pave the way for the invasion of the Japanese islands in World War II. On Friday, his dream finally came closer to reality when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pledged $500,000 for the museum and senators from both political parties anted up another $526,000 out of their allotted capital outlay for construction and infrastructure projects. “If we don’t tell this story, it will be lost, and this is a story that we cannot lose,” Lujan Grisham said during a news conference to announce the deal. Pinto expressed elation and shook the governor’s hand before teaching her some Navajo words to use when she is eating chicken. Navajo Code Talker and former Navajo Nation Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald, who joined Pinto and Lujan Grisham at the event, said the greatest contribution the Code Talkers made was to “save hundreds, thousands of lives in the war in the Pacific.”

Protest period opens for proposed Greater Chaco drilling

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The federal government is proceeding with plans for a December auction of oil and gas drilling leases on thousands of acres of land in the Greater Chaco region. A comment period on the proposal opened today and will continue through October 31, despite a pending Senate bill that would protect the area, and without a cultural review and consultation promised by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Miya King-Flaherty, organizer with the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, said the government is violating its own procedures by not having a resource management plan in place. “They’re not following their own rules,” King-Flaherty said; “they’re really just rubber-stamping these drilling permits while not giving the thorough analysis that they are mandated to do.” New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have introduced legislation to protect the greater Chaco region.

The Census struggles to count all New Mexicans. Here’s why it matters

You won’t find James Ironmoccasin’s house on Google Maps. To get to his place on the northeastern edge of the Navajo Nation, head east from the 7-2-11 gas station on Highway 64 in Shiprock, take the sixth turn into “Indian Village,” a neighborhood of small, unnumbered houses on a winding, ungraded and nameless dirt lane, and follow for about a quarter mile, then turn at the dilapidated corral of horses. If he’s expecting you, Ironmoccasin, his jet-black hair parted to one side and a string of bright, traditional turquoise beads hanging around his neck, will be waiting to flag you down. “If you are kind of familiar with the area, and you’re good with directions, it’s OK,” he says with a chuckle. “I try to give the easier route.”

Though his family has lived on this square plot of land for the past 60 years, he says he can’t remember a time when any one of them — not his parents, not his sisters, not his brother, and certainly not himself — was counted in the decennial, or 10-year, U.S. census.

In this home, Navajo language unlocks tradition, identity

Tyler Bennallie, 11, sprawls on the floor of his family’s mobile home on the Navajo Nation in Fort Defiance, Arizona, while his baby sister bounces on his back. He doesn’t mind when 1-year-old Emily plays horsey on him, or when she babbles loudly in his ear, or when she interrupts his efforts to talk about his favorite things, like Iron Man Legos. A tall, kind-faced boy with dark-framed glasses and a buzz cut, Tyler doesn’t even object when Emily grabs his prized “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books. His brothers, Conner, 4, and Bryson, 6, meanwhile play with his Lego Super Heroes — his most treasured possessions — which could be headless, legless or MIA by the time the two get done. “They usually destroy all my stuff,” Tyler says calmly.

NM Environment Review: March lease sale near Chaco postponed, plus gas hikes, San Juan settlement and subalpine trees

In an exclusive story published Thursday evening, Michael Coleman reported that U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke postponed an oil and gas lease sale in northwestern New Mexico. According to the story:
Zinke told the Journal in an exclusive interview Thursday afternoon that “there have been some questions raised” so the Bureau of Land Management will hold off on the sale of about 25 parcels on 4,434 acres within Rio Arriba, Sandoval, and San Juan Counties in northwestern New Mexico. Mark Oswald reported in the Albuquerque Journal on Tuesday that more than 20 acequia and community ditch groups want to overturn a 2013 court decision that approved  an agreement between the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico settled a decades-old water rights claim on the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River that flows through northwestern New Mexico. Their filing, by Albuquerque attorney Victor Marshall, seeks to toss out the judge’s ruling because he lived and worked on the Navajo Nation in the 1970s. It’s a shocking enough motion that former newspaperman, and current UNM Water Resources Department Director, John Fleck weighed in the issue on his blog this week.

Three years after attack, urban Indian population remains vulnerable

ALBUQUERQUE – With cuts and bruises on his face, back and shoulders, Jerome Eskeets frantically told police about the violent assault he barely survived the night before. In his 30s, Eskeets had been sleeping in an empty lot on Albuquerque’s west side with friends and relations, Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, who like Eskeets were Dine’, as members of the Navajo Nation call themselves. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth. Soon after talking to Eskeets, police found Gorman’s and Thompson’s bludgeoned bodies. The 2014 crime shocked Albuquerque, the state and occasionally made national news as the cases against the three defendants eventually arrested in the brutal killings — youths Alex Rios, Nathaniel Carrillo and Gilbert Tafoya — worked their way through the court system.

The Navajo Nation has a wild horse problem

Up to 40,000 wild horses wander the Navajo Nation, roaming across 27,000 miles of deep canyons, rugged hills and huge mountains, according to aerial estimates from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In just five years, the population is expected to double. Already the feral horses compete with domestic animals, sheep or cattle, and wildlife for water and sparse vegetation. Yet a Navajo Nation oversight committee recently denied an $800,000 funding request from the tribe’s Fish and Wildlife Department to help reduce the horse population, leaving the nation with few alternatives. “Right now, there is no program,” Leo Watchman, Navajo Nation Agriculture Department director, told me recently.