Greater Chaco Relay Run Highlights Call for Greater Protection
On March 24-26, 2022 over two dozen Indigenous youth participated in a prayer run spanning over 130 miles to demand landscape-level protections for the Greater Chaco region.
The vast majority of available public lands in the Greater Chaco region are already leased for oil and gas extraction. The prayer run was organized in response to the Biden Administration’s proposal to protect a 10-mile buffer around Chaco Culture National Historical Park from future oil and gas leasing current oil and gas approvals that threaten the landscape.
While the runners are supportive of the proposed 10-mile mineral withdrawal, the journey focused on the need to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape beyond a 10-mile buffer around the Park. Runners affirmed the longstanding call for meaningful cultural landscape management that centers the needs of impacted communities and Tribal Nations to whom this region is sacred.
“This run reminded me that the prayers our ancestors have left for us have already been laid down. We must listen to these prayers and advocate for tribal sovereignty and our sacred places. Advocacy includes actions that are legal in form as well as actions that maintain our physical and spiritual connection to our lands. When we come together in these efforts, tribal sovereignty cannot be diminished.”
Criss crossing celestially aligned roads once used by people approaching Chaco from throughout the "Americas", runners took pride in orienting themselves with the help of landmarks and waterways, not just modern roads.
The youth covered 130 miles over the course of three days, their route designed to travel through large parts of the proposed federal mineral withdrawal area, including Kin Ya’a and Pueblo Pintado, as well as significant areas unprotected outside of the proposed protection area including areas across the continental divide, which enabled runners to pray for water in two oceans. In addition to oil fields, the route passed the now-closed Escalante Power plant and other industrialized facilities, underscoring the need for comprehensive landscape management across the region to protect the health, wealth, and wellness of Tribal communities. Runners carried staffs from several Native-led groups and local community members. More than “batons”, they return home endowed with blessings and reminders of how to interact with the land respectfully until their next journey.
Dustin Martin (Diné), one of the run organizers, shared:
“After relaying with my peers, I am more sure than ever that oil and gas extraction not only threatens the Greater Chaco Landscape, but also a way of life that Diné and Pueblo people have safeguarded for time immemorial.
As our group ran from the pristine plains near Kinya'á and Crownpoint to the network of industry roads closer to Pueblo Pintado and Counselor Chapters, resource extraction infrastructure began to infringe on our ability to move through the region without fear. Only together could we be sure we would remain safe.
There is great knowledge and empowerment to be gained by Native youth when they follow the paths of their ancestors on foot. For this reason alone, the Greater Chaco Landscape must be protected.”
The multi-day prayer run concluded at Chaco Canyon, where the runners gathered in prayer and called for an end to federal fossil fuel leasing and drilling across the region. After visiting ancestral sites, the runners returned to their final camp for a celebratory meal, where they were hosted by local Navajo allottees thankful for their efforts.
"Taayiisii Ahe’hee/ Thank you very much to the runners, cooks, bread makers, elders, organizers, community leaders, and allottees for showing up and expressing your support and care for our land and each other. I was reminded again that running is medicine. This experience was heartfelt and restored hope in our communities. This run for me was for our community members impacted by extractive colonialism, the caretakers who show up tirelessly for their relatives, the waterless water tanks across Eastern Dinetah and children who continue to carry the weight of the impacts etc. I prayed hard for our living sacred landscape and how much more we have to continue to demand federal, state, and tribal agencies to prioritize our public health and safety. Our communities deserve protection from the oil and gas impacts and we will continue to demand no more leasing from Eastern Dinetah and afar. Thank you again to the Native youth runners for prioritizing our sacred spaces and bringing more awareness locally.”
- Cheyenne Antonio, Dine Allottees Against Oil Exploitation
Dine Allottees Against Extraction advocates for the fair and just treatment of allottees, for an end to the era of extractive colonialism in Eastern Navajo Agency, and for new processes of collaboration and consent with federal and state agencies to ensure environmental justice for Diné people.
“The runners are certainly to be commended. We must continue to call for protection of the Greater Chaco Landscape well beyond the proposed 10-mile buffer in order to truly ensure the wellbeing of the land, air, water, and impacted communities. In this time of the changing climate and the witnessing of the melting of the polar icecaps, we must observe and listen to the sacredness of nihima nahaszhan's actions.
- Navajo Nation Council Delegate Daniel Tso
The run was organized as a collaborative effort of the Greater Chaco Coalition, including Diné CARE, Pueblo Action Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, as well as Wings of America and The Red Nation.