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Presbyterians at the forefront of protecting New Mexico’s Greater Chaco Landscape

More than 50 Presbyterian clergy and other leaders sign a letter sent Thursday to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Raychel Sanner via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Andrew Black, a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is coordinating an effort to ensure protections of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which the National Park Service calls “the center of an ancient world.”

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is in the northwest corner of New Mexico, about three hours northwest of Albuquerque.

On Thursday, more than 250 faith and Indigenous leaders sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — the first Native American person to serve as a cabinet secretary and a 35th generation New Mexican — thanking Haaland for the Biden administration’s proposed withdrawal of federal lands within 10 miles of the park from oil and gas drilling for 20 years. The letter urges final approval of the administration’s proposal.

As a UNESCO World Heritage site, “Chaco Canyon tells an ancient and powerful story of the rich history, culture, spirituality and resiliency of Indigenous communities throughout the American Southwest,” states the letter, which was signed by ecumenical and interfaith leaders from more than 30 faith traditions, including more than 50 Presbyterians. “Since time immemorial, these communities have had a deep and sacred connection to the land, water, and wildlife of this important area. It is our moral responsibility as a nation and our sacred task as spiritual leaders to be responsible stewards of Creation and work to protect places of such remarkable cultural, spiritual, historical and ecological significance.”

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland

Read the letter here. The Bureau of Land Management has extended its comment period on the proposed mineral withdrawal on land surrounding the park to May 6. Learn more or leave a comment here.

Black, who’s also the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands field director, says it’s “remarkable to have such a diverse array of spiritual leaders from across the country speaking in support of protecting Chaco Canyon. The breadth and depth of this support truly is a testament to how important Chaco Canyon is as a place of national significance with incredible history, culture, spirituality and wildlife.”

The Rev. Andrew Black

“Chaco Canyon holds religious significance that spans tribes, borders and continents. Fracking equates to a serious violation against Mother Earth,” said Chaplain Joseph L. Villegas, Sr., of the Texas Band of Yaqui Indians. “Over-development undermines the area and violates the protections and treaties of our Tribal nations that were set forth by the same government that has historically tried to erase this sacred place and cultural heritage sites that don’t belong to them.”

“Supporting the well-being of land is a sacred task, as recognized by numerous faith traditions. Land is something all humans have in common — we walk on land, we grow on land, we are sustained by the land,” said the Rev. Craig Topple, a chaplain with St. Mary’s Health Care System and Highland Hills Village in Athens, Georgia, and pastor of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Statham, Georgia. “Chaco Canyon is a place where the sense of the sacredness of land has been honored for generations. Our duty and responsibility is to stand in solidarity with those who know and care for the land most intimately.”

“Saint Francis of Assisi invites us to listen to ‘our sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us.’ Our Native American brothers and sisters have listened to Mother Earth from time immemorial and now we must stand in solidarity to care for our Holy Mother Earth and special places like Chaco Canyon,” said Sister Joan Brown, the executive director of New Mexico and El Paso Interfaith Power & Light. “We cannot continue to destroy our sacred trust.”

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