Shiprock, NM: Today, at the first of eight Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) scoping meetings, agency officials walked out on community members attempting to give public comment. Held at Shiprock Chapter House, BLM hosted informational tables encircling the community room, and instructed attendees to give public comment at one of their many tables.
Shiprock Chapter President, Chili Yazzie greeted his community and informed the crowd he had no prior consultation with BLM or BIA officials other than the scheduled use of the Chapter House meeting space. He invited chapter members to share their comments in front of the community when BLM Farmington Field Office Manager Richard Fields informed Mr. Yazzie that public comment in this form would not be accepted. After Mr. Yazzie explained the culture of chapter community meetings, he handed the mic over to a young woman who shared her experience living in proximity to 4 fracking wells as BLM officials picked up their tabling materials and walked out of the room. Fifteen minutes later, Navajo Nation police entered.
Regardless, what is evident is that BLM is not only allowing the oil and gas industry to run roughshod over Navajo communities, this latest attempt at public engagement via scoping meetings at chapter houses is an exercise in lip service - BLM has demonstrated that they will only pay attention to Indigenous voices on their own terms. If Natives don't abide by BLM's orders - even on their own land - the federal agency will turn a deaf ear.
If Natives don't abide by BLM's orders - even on their own land - the federal agency will turn a deaf ear.
Below are some statements collected from those at today's scoping meeting.
"For too long were have been manipulated and lectured by the federal government and its agencies as to how we conduct ourselves and how we respond to their rules. There must be a time when we do not allow this kind of intrusion on our own lands. If we are to make valid comment to the discussions that they want present there needs to be some mutual understanding of what the intent is, what the process will be. There needs to be acknowledgement and respect for our ways of life and mannerisms here on our own lands. If they are not respectful they are not welcome here.
We didn't invite them. They invited themselves. It is our land so at least a part of this public process should be on our terms."
-- Duane "Chili" Yazzie, Shiprock Chapter President
"These agency officials only live 25 miles away and they are in Navajo country. You would think they'd consult with local officials before holding meetings in our Chapter Houses. It speaks volumes to their intent and the way they've been operating."
- Lori Goodman, Board member, Diné C.A.R.E
"I support the first amendment and this was an open invitation on both sides to hear about fracking our lands. But, once a community member wanted to express their valid concerns, BLM shut it down. So, it shows you the mindset of where BIA and BLM stand. Once they get the sense of being in an environment beyond their control, they're going to shut it down. What's more dangerous than an Indigenous person speaking up for their rights and sovereignty?
This is the first time I've been able to see how checkerboarded the area is when it comes to grazing, and the water and well sites people use. This is the first time I've seen the map for these fracking pipelines. Pipelines will leak. It is a danger to the community. We undertand that this will create jobs but we have to draw the line somewhere and say enough is enough. This is our only opportunity when BLM and BIA are present to listen, and they refuse to."
- Chuck Haven, local resident
"The fact that the Chapter President asked that public comments be verbal and BLM ignored the request is disrespectful. Just the fact that on one hand, we asked for a change in the schedule because the meeting scheduled on November 12 is the same day as Jemez Feast Day and the majority of residents from Counselor and Nageezi Chapters will be over there. And now, because the federal officials left, are they in violation of their own laws? Previously they said they couldn't change the date of the Counselor and Nageezi meetings because of their laws for notice in the federal registrar. Don't their laws also require them to hold the meetings they scheduled? We still have Navajo residents here that certainly wanted to make comment but now that BLM left, that can't happen."
- Daniel Tso, former Torreon Council Delegate
"I came here to be in opposition toward fracking because of cultural preservation. Promises are being broken. Sacred sites and livelihoods are being trampled. I see it happen in North Dakota, and it's also happening here. It's heartbreaking."
- An unidentified community member
From the Farmington Daily Times:
"At the Huerfano meeting, following an hour-long "open house," the floor was opened to the public, with Chapter President Wilson Ray Sr. providing opening comments.
"These people (BLM and BIA) need information," Ray told those gathered. "It's very important that you give them information so they'll know what's going on,"
Stone said discussions about a possible re-scheduling of the Shiprock scoping meeting are ongoing.