More than 100 people gathered in front of Bureau of Land Management's office in Santa Fe to protest the agency's online auction today and tomorrow for the lease of over 89,000 acres of land in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Speakers with the coalition, which included New Mexico Sierra Club, The Red Nation, the Pueblo Action Alliance and others, took to a microphone to denounce the BLM's sale of 44,000 acres in the Greater Chaco region as well as 40,000 near Carlsbad Caverns.
The building was closed due to a federal day of mourning for late President George HW Bush, but the group remained at the building before briefly marching along Highway 14.
Mario Atencio, a member of the Navajo Nation from Counselor, New Mexico, said he has tried since 2012 to ask the federal government for a moratorium on fossil fuel development in the Chaco region through a coalition of Navajo Nation chapters. He traveled to Santa Fe to attend the protest.
"They're already fracking on my grandma's land," Atencio said. "It's on federal Indian allotment lands, and this [action] is because they haven't listened to our public comments."
A press release from the coalition that organized the protest said over 10,000 public comments were submitted to the BLM to oppose the online auction. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke deferred a March lease sale of over 4,000 acres near Chaco Culture National Historic Park so the area could receive more cultural study.
Protesters who showed up Wednesday feared the ongoing sale would nullify any effect of the March deferment by allowing oil and gas development on ancestral lands.
"This is environmental racism and it needs to end," said Savannah Junes Ortiz, a Pueblo woman from Ohkay Owingeh.
Terry Sloan, director of the United Nations-affiliated organization Southwest Native Cultures in Albuquerque, said in a statement that the BLM was "ignoring requests by over 100 organizations, over 10,000 public comments, dozens of Tribes, Navajo Chapters and the All Pueblo Council of Governors, for a moratorium on further oil and gas exploration and development until an adequate Resource Management Plan assessment can be completed."
In prepared remarks, however, Sloan said he had hope incoming Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would be more receptive to the coalition's pleas.
After speaking for a little over an hour, the group exited toward Rancho Viejo Boulevard and stopped momentarily at the intersection with Highway 14. At least half a dozen sheriff's deputies vehicles appeared to block the march's path as it moved west on the highway.
Within minutes, the march arrived back to the BLM building, where a few more speakers took the stage before disbanding.
At the end of the event, Jennifer Marley of San Ildefonso Pueblo and The Red Nation told SFR that for her, the action "marked the end of trying to work through the legal channels."
"[The BLM] has continued taking land, they're not respecting us as Native people, our sovereignty isn't being respected," Marley said. "We're not going to back down."