Our Financial Loss Is ‘Nothing to Celebrate’: Navajo Protest Biden’s Ban of Drilling on Their ‘Sacred’ Land

'Go home!' Native protesters tell Interior Secretary Deb Haaland ahead of Sunday event

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Getty Images)
June 12, 2023

Members of the Navajo Nation blocked a Biden administration official from entering a New Mexico national park on Sunday, where the administration planned to celebrate its ban on oil and gas leasing in the area. 

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was forced to hold the event at a different location after Native landowners blocked the road into the park, telling the Biden appointee to "go home" and stop "trespassing." Haaland expressed her disappointment with the protest after changing venues, saying the demonstration "wasn't ideal." "To see any road into any of our national parks or our public lands blocked was heartbreaking because our public lands belong to all Americans," Haaland lamented.

At issue was Haaland's June 2 decision to ban for 20 years oil and gas leasing within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a move she said would protect "a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples." Many Navajo Nation landowners, however, disagreed as they depend on the revenue they earn from leasing the land to oil and gas companies. Haaland planned to celebrate the ban at her Sunday event, prompting condemnation from Navajo president Buu Nygren.

"The financial and economic losses that are impacting many Navajo families as a result of the secretary's recent land withdrawal are nothing to celebrate," Nygren said in a statement. "As leaders of the Navajo Nation, we support the Navajo allottees who oppose the withdrawal of these public lands."

The ordeal is deeply embarrassing for Haaland, who represented New Mexico's First Congressional District in Congress from 2019 to 2021 and later "made history" when she became the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. Still, that history didn't stop Navajo protesters from derailing Haaland's Sunday event, and the tribe is even considering suing Haaland to overturn the oil and gas ban.

Navajo Nation leaders say Haaland, whose office declined to comment, failed to adequately consult them before issuing the 20-year oil and gas ban. But Haaland did provide access to her daughter's green group, Pueblo Action Alliance, which works to end both oil and gas production as well as "imperial capitalism." 

Haaland last year met with the group's executive director, who referred to the Biden appointee as "Auntie Deb." Haaland's daughter, meanwhile, represented the group on a December Washington, D.C., lobbying trip aimed at securing the oil and gas ban around Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Just months later, Haaland's daughter got her wish.

Haaland's relationship with her daughter's green group prompted the House Natural Resources Committee to launch an investigation into Haaland over potential ethics violations. For energy advocacy group Power the Future, that investigation is far overdue.

"For more than two years, the Biden Administration has acted without any serious congressional oversight, and we have all suffered the disastrous consequences," the group's founder and executive director, Daniel Turner, said in a statement. "Secretary Haaland’s relentless crusade against American energy producers knows no limits, and the public deserves to know about any financial connections she stood to gain from her family employment."