Youth group runs 80 miles to call attention for protecting greater Chaco area

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Andreanne Catt, left, and Lauren Howland prepare to join a group of runners Monday in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — A group of runners completed an 80-mile trek to bring attention to hydraulic fracturing near the Chaco Culture National Historic Park — and health effects on area residents.

The runners, each wearing T-shirts stating, "Get the frack out," completed the run Monday at the Bureau of Land Management's Farmington Field Office.

They also delivered a letter that reiterated comments about the ongoing process between the BLM and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to examine management of public and tribal lands, including mineral leasing and development activity around Chaco Canyon.

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"All right, guys. Eighty miles later, we did it," Nageezi resident Lauren Howland said after the group arrived in the office's parking lot.

Howland, a member of the International Indigenous Youth Council, helped organize the run that started Saturday in Counselor Chapter and proceeded along U.S. Highway 550.

The route continued from Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle to Farmington on Sunday.

For Monday's portion, runners started at the intersection of Browning Parkway and Wildflower Drive and proceeded to the BLM office on College Boulevard.

BLM Field Manager Rick Fields, left, receives a letter by Counselor Chapter Community Services Coordinator Samuel Sage protesting the use of hydraulic fracturing in the Greater Chaco Area during a rally at the BLM Field Office in Farmington on Monday.

Howland said Counselor Chapter residents are heavily impacted by hydraulic fracturing and high methane levels from oil and gas extraction.

Twin Pines resident Kendra Pinto said she ran to call attention to the "living culture" in the Chaco Canyon area.

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"Most times when we talk about Chaco, we think it's old walls and old buildings but there's still people who live in that area and we need to start talking about them," Pinto said.

She added that the extraction of resources should not be placed above the value of people, and the drilling activity makes residents feel like they are "disposable."

A group protesting  hydraulic fracturing in the Greater Chaco area dance Monday at the Bureau of Land Management field office in Farmington.

"The people matter more than the money," Pinto said.

Jacquelyn Cordova traveled from her home in Vadito, a community near Taos, to participate.

She said while it is not plausible to tell people to quit working in the oil fields because they need to support their families, there are alternatives for energy production.

"We need the BLM, which who is supposed to be managing the land, to manage the land in a good way," she said. "We need the companies, who keep saying that they're interested in helping indigenous communities and helping our world continue to flourish, they need to make commitments to clean energy and to alternatives."

In October, the BLM and the BIA started its joint analysis of the management plan for public and tribal lands near Chaco.

As part of the process, the bureaus held 10 public scoping meetings in the region.

Members of the International Indigenous Youth Council covered 80 miles on their way toward Farmington's Bureau of Land Management field office Monday in Farmington.

After the runners made comments, they delivered a six-page letter to Richard Fields, field manager for the BLM's Farmington Field Office.

Part of the letter reasserted a call for an immediate moratorium on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the greater Chaco area until the process for the management plan is completed.

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The letter also called for the retirement of non-producing oil and gas leases and inactive wells.

It also requested that meaningful and adequate consultation to take place with Navajo officials and chapters and pueblos that have connections to Chaco culture.

"We also want to make sure that their office truly includes studies of social, economical and environmental justice for this region that has for too long been at the forefront of exception and a sacrifice zone," said Rebecca Sobel, climate and energy senior campaigner for WildEarth Guardians.

Members of the International Indigenous Youth Council make their way up College Boulevard Monday toward Bureau of Land Management field office in Farmington.

Fields told the group that he will read the letter.

He added that if the youth want to continue advocating for change, they need to work with elected officials.

"We operate within the confines of the law and the direction given out of Washington, D.C., so that's where our authority is and the areas we have to work in," Fields said.

In an interview after the event, Fields said he had no comment about environmental issues the group raised regarding the extraction of oil and gas.

As for the letter, it will be reviewed and added as a comment about the management plan, he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.