August 2017

OP-ED: Kayleigh Warren

Seventh Generation Youth Gathering for the Protection of Greater Chaco


On July 8, youth, elders and community members from the 18 Pueblo villages, the Hopi tribe, Navajo Nation, Comanche, Gila River, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache, Ute, Yaqui, Cheyenne, Lakota, Arapaho, Choctaw and Shawnee Nations came together at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the Seventh Generation Youth Gathering for the Protection of Greater Chaco. This event, hosted by Diné-Pueblo Youth Solidarity, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, Tewa Women United, and Communities for Clean Water, was held specifically for tribal youth, tribal youth councils of Pueblo and Diné nations, and tribal leadership. Our families and community members were welcome to attend.


Inspired by the historic joint session between the All Pueblo Council and Navajo Nation in February, and in light of the growing movement among Southwestern indigenous youth to actively re-engage in the protection of the life-affirming resources that have sustained our peoples since the beginning, the gathering focused on the complex situation of the Greater Chaco region and as a way to present opportunities for tribal youth leadership development. The goals of the gathering were to help youth understand the significance of our connection as tribal community members to cultural resources, natural resources and economic sustainability; to explain how the extractive industry (and other land-based industries) has imposed detrimental impacts to community, physical, spiritual and financial health; and to foster meaningful discussion of hopeful, engaging solutions. The spirit of unity and power embodied by the intergenerational gathering was a testament to our resilience and commitment to our tribal communities and nations, looking seven generations into the future for solutions that drive our present actions.


For non-Native scientific, environmental and archaeological communities, the Greater Chaco area exists in a cloud of wonder and mystery. It is the epicenter of ancient Southwestern culture—a desolate place where the relentless desert sun beats down on scattered ruins. They often see Four Corners sites like Chaco Canyon as merely figments of the past—broken, abandoned places, as they sift through the area’s rich resources seeking knowledge. But for this land’s timeless caretakers, the descendents of those who built and inhabited the Greater Chaco landscape, this land breathes with us. It is a spiritual sanctuary, a direct connection to our history and the teachings of our ancestors.


Our indigenous world has been occupied by the biggest capitalist consumer nation in the world. It is based on the cheap exploitation of natural resources like oil and gas. This blessed, sacred area has been designated a “national sacrifice zone,” a resource colony, and since then, the Four Corners region and her peoples have been forced to suffer impacts of oil, gas, uranium mining and other mineral extraction operations. For the sake of our sustainability as indigenous people who have relied on the gifts of our Mother for life since time immemorial, it is imperative that our lifeways are not secondary any longer, and that the sacrifice comes to an end. 


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been auctioning public lands to oil and gas companies at an irresponsible, rampant rate. In recent years, there has been a revolving door of corrupt officials expediting the industries’ access to public lands. This will intensify under the agenda of the new federal administration. Fracking and oil and gas wells in the Four Corners number in the tens of thousands. Each of those wells is a threat to our watersheds and land-based existence. Recent developments in horizontal drilling have changed the game in the energy industry and are creating toxic reservoirs and countless, largely unregulated wells. Each well uses over 5 million gallons of water, mixed with toxic chemicals and injected into the ground. This “fracking fluid” has been known to contaminate groundwater sources. Radioactive “fluid flowback” is stored in above-ground pits.


There is great concern about the encroachment of these fracking wells in the greater Chaco region, an area outside the boundaries of the national park. Chaco is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the San Juan Citizens Alliance, 91 percent of northwest New Mexico’s state and federal lands have already been auctioned off, with the remaining 9 percent in the greater Chaco region in danger of being soon to follow. There are over 18,000 oil and gas wells in northern New Mexico, with one well inspector per 4,285 wells in that area. The BLM continues to lease public lands without having completed an analysis of the cumulative impacts to the social, environmental and cultural health of not only our Native brothers and sisters, but of all affected demographics. Tribal nations are entitled to free, prior and informed consent. It is long overdue that BLM is held accountable for violating federal Indian trust responsibilities.


For generations, young people of tribal communities have been raised to act with heart, empathy and bravery. As young leaders who genuinely believe in the principles of loving and caring for one another, our resources and Mother Earth, we feel compelled to be active—not only in the preservation of our sacred sites—but also to deeply listen to, learn from and offer support to our Diné brothers and sisters of the frontline communities in the tri-chapter area of the Navajo Nation, whose physical and spiritual well-being is being worn down by the concentrated desecration of our shared natural and cultural resources in the Greater Chaco landscape.


Although we are continually healing from generations of historical trauma at the hands of the federal government, we are collectively empowered by our core values as indigenous people to revitalize our sovereignty, our rights and responsibility to determine the longevity of our living history and health of our communities, now and for generations into the future.



Kayleigh Warren is from Santa Clara and Isleta pueblos. She is the co-founder and chairwoman of the Santa Clara Pueblo Youth Council and a co-founder of the Diné-Pueblo Youth Solidarity Coalition. She serves as a youth representative to the All Pueblo Council of Governors’ Greater Chaco Landscape Committee. She is 19 years old and a freshman at the University of New Mexico.



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