Native Land Institute Celebrates Introduction of Legislation to Protect Public Lands Surrounding Chaco Canyon in Northern New Mexico

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Thursday, May 4, 2023

Contact: Isaac De Luna | 505.917.5501 |

A critical step in the right direction to safeguard our ancestral cultural and ecological heritage for Indigenous communities across New Mexico

New Mexico –  Native Land Institute (NLI) applauds the reintroduction of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, supported by the entire New Mexico Congressional delegation – Senators Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández, Melanie Stansbury, and Gabe Vasquez. The legislation will permanently protect federal lands within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park from new oil and gas leasing.

“As an organization dedicated to preserving and restoring the land and culture of Indigenous peoples, we recognize the importance of safeguarding ancestral cultural and ecological heritage,” said Keegan King, Executive Director of the Native Land Institute

The legislation, originally introduced and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019, would protect nearly 339,000 acres of federal public lands, containing thousands of significant cultural properties and sites. The land that is being considered for withdrawal from future leasing does not include any private lands or allotments, is historically, spiritually, and ecologically significant to numerous Tribes in the Southwest, and its protection is critical.  

“The proposed legislation championed by Senators Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich and Congresswomen Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury would permanently protect hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park from new oil and gas leasing. We stand with Indigenous communities who have long called for the protection of the Greater Chaco Landscape, and we believe that the proposed federal land withdrawal would allow for Indigenous communities to continue using and developing their lands within the zone,” King said.

This reintroduction comes as the Biden administration is preparing to decide whether or not to finalize its proposed 20-year administrative mineral withdrawal of federal lands and minerals surrounding Chaco Canyon from future oil and gas leasing. Today’s reintroduction further demonstrates the growing momentum behind lasting protections for this significant landscape.  

“Protecting the Greater Chaco Landscape is critical to preserving its irreplaceable historic significance and rare ecosystems, which are already under pressure from grazing and mineral and fossil fuel extraction. As such, we urge Congress to pass the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act and uphold the right of Indigenous peoples to both protect and develop their ancestral lands,” King said.

The proposed legislation would ensure the permanent protection of roughly 339,000 acres of public lands surrounding the park, which contain thousands of archaeological and cultural sites, and would also help protect local communities from the impacts of additional drilling. 

Reconnecting Indigenous youth to their ancestral lands

Today’s introduction of legislation comes on the same day Native Land Institute, in partnership with National Parks Conservation Association, Archaeology Southwest, and Walatowa Charter High School in Jemez Pueblo and Laguna-Acoma Jr./Sr. High School, carried out a field trip with approximately 65 students from the two schools. Participants were accompanied by Pueblo leaders who shared their expertise and history of the sites and the interconnected broader landscape. Photos from today’s field trip can be found here.

The field trip was a unique opportunity for the youth to experience and learn about the deep cultural connections that Pueblo people have with this central hub of Puebloan culture, which carries huge significance and deep spiritual meaning for its descendants. The trip included visits to several key sites, including Hungo Pavi, Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo del Arroyo, and Casa Rinconada. Throughout the day, students learned about the history and culture of the Pueblo people and their deep connection to the land.

Students who participated in today’s field trip also had a chance to watch a welcome video by Tracy Stone-Manning, Director of the Bureau of Land Management in New Mexico, and New Mexico District 3 Congresswoman, Rep. Teresa Leger-Fernandez


Native Land Institute is an organization dedicated to advancing economic, environmental, and social justice for indigenous communities across the Southwest and beyond. As a connector and convener, we work to support tribes and indigenous communities on a range of issues, empowering them to drive positive change from within by building effective coalitions, developing community-informed policy, and investing in the next generation of indigenous leaders and organizations.