Nov. 15 (UPI) — The Biden administration announced on Monday efforts to improve protections for Native American tribal lands and traditions, including a proposed 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
The announcements came as President Joe Biden held the first Tribal Nations summit in five years at the White House.
The Interior Department in the coming weeks will begin consideration of a plan for a 20-year halt on federal mineral rights leasing within a 10-mile radius around Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico, the administration announced.
The Greater Chaco Landscape “is a region of great cultural, spiritual, and historical significance to many Pueblos and Indian Tribes” that contains “thousands of artifacts that date back more than 1,000 years,” the White House said in a statement.
Chaco cultural sites were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and are one of only 24 such sites in the United States.
“For the past decade, Pueblos and Tribes in Arizona and New Mexico have raised concerns about encroaching oil and gas development threatening sacred and cultural sites, and Congress has passed a series of actions to temporarily defer new leasing,” the administration said.
The proposed withdrawal will not apply to individual allotments or to minerals within the area owned by private, state or tribal entities, nor would it impose restrictions on other developments, such as roads, water lines, transmission lines or buildings.
The New Mexico Land Office has already implemented a moratorium on new state mineral leases within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
The measure was one of several new projects aimed at enhancing protections for Native Americans announced at the Tribal Nations Summit.
“The White House Tribal Nations Summit is an opportunity to celebrate the progress we have made in this new nation-to-nation era and map out plans to improve outcomes for this generation of Native Americans and for the seven generations to come,” the White House said.
Biden on Monday also signed an executive order for several departments to create a strategy within 240 days to improve public safety and justice for Native Americans and to address “the epidemic of missing or murdered Indigenous peoples.”
“It’s long overdue,” he said during the signing ceremony. “We’re going to make some substantial change in Indian Country, and it’s going to continue.”
The strategy must also establish a plan to address unsolved cases involving Native Americans, provide coordination among the various departments and strengthen and expand Native American participation in the Amber Alert in Indian Country initiative.
The order also calls for supporting tribal and non-federal law enforcement to respond to violence against this marginalized population; improve data collection analysis and information sharing; and strengthen prevention, early intervention and victim and survivor services.
And it directs the departments of justice, homeland security and interior, to provide support for tribal nations to implement “tribally centered” responses to safety and crime.
“This builds on the work we did together on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013 when we granted authority to tribes to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders who commit violence on tribal lands,” Biden said.
“We’re going to reauthorize that again, we’re going to expand the jurisdiction to include other offenses like sex trafficking, sexual assault and child abuse.”
Garland said in remarks at the summit that he is “eager” to work with Haaland to develop the plan and that the Justice Department on Monday launched a steering committee that will work with other agencies to develop a comprehensive plan to address the crisis of missing or murdered indigenous people.
The executive order was signed as the United States’ Native American communities combat violence committed against its people.
The National Crime Information Center has reported 5,712 cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, though the number could be higher.
Biden in his executive order cited research that said Native American women are disproportionately the victims of sexual and gender-based violence as half have experienced sexual violence. The vast majority of Native American survivors, it said, reported being victimized by a non-Native American individual, it said.
“We acknowledge that our country’s historically failed to meet the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous people with the urgency and the resources it demands,” Garland said. “We also recognize that solving this crisis requires that we work in partnership with one another. The president’s executive order will build on and expand our efforts to do exactly that.”
The administration said the infrastructure bill Biden signed Monday and the proposed Build Back Better measure being debated in Congress will provide “billions of dollars” to support Native American families with programs that will cut the costs of raising a family, along with easing healthcare costs and addressing climate change.
“Investments in the Build Back Better Plan would bring record funding for tribes in the areas of child care and preschool programs,” the White House said. “This transformative cradleboard to college funds will make it easier for Native women and other family providers to remain in the workforce and increase educational opportunities and outcomes for children.”