Protecting the Checkerboard

By Kendra Pinto, Twin Pines resident, Diné CARE

What defines an area? The people? The place? The plant life? Wildlife? I often find that question lingering in my head as I go deeper and deeper into the dirty, dark history of this country. No amount of reparation will make up for the pain and suffering felt by my relatives, not really. The work I immerse myself in strives to bring “regular” citizens to the decision table when it comes  to policies or rules that will affect their daily lives either directly or indirectly.

The area in and around Counselor, N.M., is made up of a “checkerboard” of various jurisdictions; federal, state, tribal, private, and allotment. Due to this complex setup of checkered land, the industrial activity inches its way closer and closer to surrounding communities.

My top concern is public health and safety. Increased semi-truck traffic means increased risks for vehicle collisions. This cannot be denied. Accident after accident has happened in the rural areas of Counselor that do not make front-page news, and why should it? Why draw attention to an area extracting millions of dollars just because an industrial truck carrying liquid nitrogen overturned on the highway?

Oil production in New Mexico was booming back in 2018, but as 2020 approached, decline in production was quite noticeable; less traffic, less royalties.

I recently was involved in getting information on the Draft Resource Management Plan from the Bureau of Land Management to the people most affected by the plan, particularly those in the Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation. As you might expect in a rural setting, the outreach proved to be difficult. Submission for public comments on the plan were taken through BLM’s ePlanning website, by phone, and by postal mail. The website submission itself is complex — there’s no way for an elder with a ranch to submit an online comment; portions of the reservation lack critical infrastructure such as running water, electricity, and, you guessed it, Internet. The insensitive comments of Bart Stevens, regional director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Navajo Regional Office, whose solution was to essentially walk to another location for cellular service, line up with the current state of affairs: lack of tribal consultation. The lack of accessibility for tribal members to participate and fully engage is quite clear in this mockery of a plan that will rewrite the history of more than 4 million acres of land.

Internet access in the Eastern Agency is not where it should be in 2020. Neither is the cellular network. More often than not my personal cell phone will indicate “no service” while at home. These are problems that should have been considered by an agency whose mission statement is based on communitive (public) land use by “present and future generations.” Even as someone who makes it a priority to know how the Resource Management Plan amendment affects the Checkerboard, I still find myself going in circles trying to understand a document that has over 1,000 pages. As I told members of Congress a few years ago, “There is nothing wrong with demanding clean air and clean water. Everyone here needs those two things.”

Ahéhee from within the Lybrook Badlands, 
Kendra Pinto

Protecting the Checkerboard