Bureau of Land Management personnel were heavily criticized Thursday for walking out of what was supposed to be a community meeting in Shiprock, New Mexico, to discuss the future of oil and gas drilling near Chaco Canyon.
On Thursday, the BLM hosted the first of eight planned “scoping meetings” – in partnership with the Bureau of Indian Affairs – intended to engage members of the Navajo Nation on concerns regarding drilling, as well as fracking, on sacred lands.
Shiprock Chapter President Duane Chili Yazzie told The Durango Herald the BLM had set up tables in the Shiprock Chapter House, where community members were asked to line up one by one and write down their concerns.
About 45 minutes in, Yazzie asked BLM staff to change the format of the meeting in a way that would allow a more open discussion, so that all in attendance could hear citizen comments.
“(The BLM’s format) just doesn’t fit our mannerism and means of communication here as traditional people,” Yazzie said.
In a video taken of the meeting, Richard Fields, field manager for the BLM Farmington Field Office, explains to the audience an open discussion is a different process than a “scoping meeting.”
“If you want a consultation, we’ll have to come back later,” Fields said.
Yazzie again asked for open public comments, and Fields told him if that were to continue, Fields would shut down the meeting.
“Well, let’s shut it down,” Yazzie said.
The handful of meetings throughout the Navajo Nation stem from an announcement last month by the U.S. Department of the Interior that it would take a closer look at planned drilling in the culturally significant region around Chaco Culture National Historic Park.
Part of that initiative included meetings throughout small communities on the Navajo Nation, many of which hold deep ties to the rich Native American sites around the area.
Thursday’s disturbance was not a good sign of things to come, many who attended said.
“Today’s event follows a long pattern of failed consultation and public involvement on the development of Mancos Shale in northwestern New Mexico and is a striking example of the perpetuation of disproportionate impacts to communities where energy development is occurring,” said Mike Eisenfeld with the San Juan Citizens Alliance.
Community members, too, issued a statement after the meeting.
“It shows you the mindset of where BIA and BLM stand,” said Kirtland resident Chuck Haven. “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?”
Daniel Tso, a former Torreon council delegate, said the BLM walkout leaves many issues on the table regarding drilling near Chaco.
“We still have Navajo residents here that certainly wanted to make comment, but now that BLM left, that can’t happen,” he said.
Representatives with the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not respond for comment.