Tribes, archaeologists are working to identify sites in Greater Chaco for protections from oil and gas

Tribal governments are working with archaeologists to identify thousands of culturally-sensitive sites and resources in the Greater Chaco region, in hopes of preventing oil and gas development in the area from encroaching further onto the sacred landscape. 

The studies are part of a multi-pronged strategy to protect the area amid increased oil and gas leasing on federal lands in New Mexico. Under the Trump administration, oil and gas leasing on federal lands, including land in the Greater Chaco region, has increased fourfold in the state. 

Last year, Congress passed a bill granting a one-year moratorium on oil and gas leasing within 10 miles of the Chaco Culture Historical National Park. That moratorium expires later this week on September 30. 

Meanwhile, the deadline for public comments on a proposal that could see as many as 3,000 new oil and gas leases sold in the Greater Chaco landscape passed September 25. The deadline took place amid repeated calls made by tribal governments and members of the New Mexico congressional delegation for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to halt the proceedings until after the COVID-19 pandemic had ended and the virus is contained. 

Acoma Pueblo Governor Brian Vallo expressed disappointment that BLM and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is also involved in the proposal, did not further delay the public comment period. 

“We are very discouraged by the fact that these deadlines have remained in place, even while we have made numerous attempts, and have voiced even through our congressional delegations, the need to pause some of these activities as a result of the public health crisis,” Vallo said during a webinar about oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco region. 

RELATED: DOI ‘expediting’ Chaco drilling proposal during pandemic

But Vallo added that he’s hopeful BLM and BIA will offer up more opportunities for tribal consultation on the proposal moving forward. Vallo said that, despite the pandemic and its impacts on tribal communities in the state, there was a great response from the pueblos and other indigenous nations who submitted comments expressing their concerns.

Gov. Martinez signs gaming compact

Gov. Susana Martinez signed a gaming compact between the state of New Mexico and five tribal governments on Monday. The compact, which will last until 2037, outlines the agreement between the state and tribal governments regarding gaming facilities. In a written statement, Martinez said the compact will benefit all parties involved. “I’m pleased that we were able to come together to secure this compact,” Martinez said. “It preserves the stability and predictability of gaming in New Mexico while addressing key priorities of the State and each individual tribal government.”

The compact adjusted the amount of revenue shared by tribes to the state.

Gaming compact passes House

The gaming compact that outlines the agreement between five Native American tribes and the state of New Mexico was approved by the House by to 60 to 5 vote. The new compact would allow tribes to operate gaming facilities 24 hours a day, extend lines of credit to those gambling and compensate food and drink. The agreement also defines the amount of net winnings tribes would pay the state in exchange for gaming exclusivity. Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, presented the compact in the form of the a joint resolution and told the body how important the compact is to both the state and tribes. “The needs of the five tribes and the state have been protected,” Clahchischilliage said.

Gaming compact passes Senate, heads to House

The Senate approved a tribal gaming compact by vote of 35 to 7 on Wednesday evening. After an hour-long debate, Senators voted to send the proposed gaming compact to the House floor. The compact, which was negotiated between representatives of Gov. Susana Martinez’s office and five New Mexico tribes, would expire in 2037. See our primer on gaming compacts written before the session. Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, who is chairman of the Committee on Compacts, presented the compact in the form of a Joint Resolution.

Gaming compact heads to Senate for approval

The Committee on Compacts met on Saturday and sent a proposed gaming compact between the state and tribes to the Senate on a 15 to 1 vote. Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, was the only member to cast a dissenting vote. He said he thought there are already too many casinos in the state. The five tribes that negotiated with Gov. Susana Martinez’s office urged the committee to approve the proposed compact. Each tribe representative had different talking points, but they all stressed that the compact should  to be approved soon to keep casino doors open and keep money flowing into the state’s coffers.

Committee gets first look at gaming compact

A legislative committee tasked with approving a gaming agreement between Native American tribes and New Mexico met for the first time on Tuesday. The Committee on Compacts heard from a representative of the governor’s office, and later asked questions, about the proposed gaming compact. The committee did not hear from the public or tribal officials but will at a future hearing. Jessica Hernandez, deputy chief-of-staff and general counsel for Gov. Susana Martinez, briefed the committee made up of Senators and Representatives about the proposed agreement between the state and five tribes. Some of the differences she highlighted were revenue sharing percentages and player credit lines.

Tribal leaders, representatives speak to Senate

Representatives and tribal leaders from around New Mexico addressed lawmakers on the Senate floor on Wednesday. Tribal members addressed their concerns about a working relationship with the state including ways to increase revenue. The groups were invited by the Senate in an effort to fix what Democrats said was a slight by Governor Susana Martinez last week. Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, called a committee of the whole Senate and invited members of the House to attend. Sanchez told New Mexico Political Report that he asked the groups to come back after it was apparent that they were not happy.

Legislative tennis: How gaming compacts are made

The process of approving gaming compacts in New Mexico can be hard to understand. There is an interim legislative committee assigned to compacts, but it does not operate like traditional committees in the state legislature. Instead the Compact Negotiation Act outlines a process that can resemble legislative tennis. Gaming compacts are agreements between tribal and state governments regarding casino gaming. For New Mexico, gaming compacts outline rules, regulations and how much of a tribes net winnings are paid to the state.