Acoma Gov. Fred Vallo Sr. and Santa Ana official Timothy Menchego expressed concern about the destruction of sacred sites in the Four Corners area because of industrial development.
Both areas are under consideration for special master lease plans by the Bureau of Land Management to help identify, avoid and mitigate industrial impacts to sensitive areas, including cultural resources.
Pueblo tribes have ancestral ties to the Mesa Verde and Chaco regions, and frequently visit for cultural and religious reasons.
“We still depend on sacred sites to practice our religion and culture, but they are threatened by the destruction of Mother Earth,” said Menchego, Santa Ana’s cultural resource coordinator. “It’s hard to put in English words, but in our native tongue, it is a lack of spiritual respect, a form of trespass.”
Vallo urged additional protection of sites important to his tribe near Chaco.
“The area is part of our migration route to the south. We still go to shrines as part of the maintenance of our culture,” Vallo said. “To see big machines tear into the Earth is worrisome as far as the condition of the land.”
Vallo and Menchego cautiously supported MLPs as a tool to preserve cultural sites.
But the clash of two worlds — one of extraction of fossil fuels, and another of indigenous peoples’ cultural connection to land where resources are extracted — makes it a challenge.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Menchego said. “It could work. There is an understanding of (oil-and-gas) development for the needs of others. On the other hand, our preference is to say no and leave the past undisturbed.”
Because the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico are descendants of ancient Native American ruins in the Four Corners, they must be consulted by the BLM on planning and mitigation efforts for development zones.
Menchego urged more “stringent consultation to our face and our eyes, that’s how we do business. Consultation via email is not sufficient.”
Moderator Paul Reed, of Archaeology Southwest, said the traditional strategy of identify cultural sites and avoiding needs to be improved upon.
“That approach causes fragmentation of the land around Chaco,” he said. “At this point, we need a different approach that looks how to design landscape-level mitigation.”
Vallo said tribes are in a unique situation when it comes to cultural sites in the U.S. because they have a longer lineage to the region than nonnatives.
“Protecting sacred sites is not just a Four Corners issue, it’s worldwide,” he said. “When (nonnatives) trace back their heritage to other countries, they will find cultural sites important to your culture are at risk also. It’s the same feeling for Native Americans.”