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Recently, I joined in support of Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich as they introduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2018. This important bill seeks to protect the most sacred, intact public lands near Chaco Culture National Historic Park from actions that would irreversibly damage this cultural landscape and its rich array of ancient artifacts and infrastructure.  

There are few places in the Unites States – and the world – that encompass the cultural, historical, and natural significance that Chaco Canyon does. For centuries, Chaco was the center of our cultural and economic life.

The area holds thousands of our ancestors’ artifacts and archaeological sites, ranging from great roads, multi-story buildings, astronomical observation sites, ceremonial kivas, and other daily tools that help our story live on today.  

Chaco Canyon carries special meaning not only for our Pueblo people. In fact, many tribes throughout the Four Corners have a special affinity to the region and consider this place sacred.

It is for these reasons that Greater Chaco is designated as one of just 22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the entire United States. 

That is why I, along with leaders from the Navajo Nation and the All Pueblo Council of Governors, applauded the bill introduction. Sportsmen, archaeologists, small business owners, preservationists, and conservationists also celebrated the importance of this bill. 

It was deeply humbling to see how important this landscape is, not just to our people – but to people across the country and world. 

The introduction of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act comes at a critical time, after several years of efforts to preserve this culturally significant landscape. Today, we are seeing the Trump administration and Congress attack our natural, cultural, and historical treasures – whether it is through shrinking national monuments like Bears Ears or chipping away at bedrock preservation and conservation laws. Our collective histories are in danger. 

Today, more than 90 percent of public lands within the region are already leased for oil and gas drilling.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently updating its resource management plan for this region, which could likely result in even more drilling in the Chaco region.  This bill, along with unified tribal support that stands behind it, should send a strong message to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that the BLM needs to act to protect this sacred landscape.  Secretary Zinke deferred oil and gas sales for the area earlier this year – now it’s time to make the long-term decision to protect the Greater Chaco Region.  

The United States has done a superb job of preserving many sacred religious sites, many of which, like Chaco Canyon, inspire and humble people from all backgrounds.

We must harness that same energy to conserve Greater Chaco Canyon for future generations. If we open the Greater Chaco Region to drilling, many of our ancestors’ sites could be lost forever.  I urge Congress to pass the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act and I call on the BLM to abide by the spirit of this important bill in their own planning process, so that we can safely say we have done right by those who will come after us.  

Chairman Edward Paul Torres is the former Governor of the Pueblo of Isleta. 

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