Biden Looking at 20-Year Ban on Oil, Gas Drilling Near Native American Heritage Site

President Joe Biden announced Monday he is seeking a 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling on Chaco Canyon, a Native American heritage site in northwestern New Mexico, during the first tribal nations summit since 2016, the Associated Press reported.

Leaders from more than 570 tribes in the United States are expected to participate in the two-day event, with nearly three dozen addressing the gathering. The summit is being held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected Native Americans and Alaska Natives at disproportionate rates.

Biden announced steps to protect Chaco Canyon, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage site a few hours northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the Interior Department, will begin a study on the possible withdrawal of federal lands within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park for 20 years. Such a move would not allow new federal oil and gas leasing and development on the lands.

Some tribes and environmentalists have complained that the solution is only temporary and that permanent protection is needed.

"Chaco Canyon is a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors lived, worked, and thrived in that high desert community," said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. "Now is the time to consider more enduring protections for the living landscape that is Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural legacy to future generations."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Tribal Nation Summit, Oil Ban
FILE - Wolf Ramerez of Houston, Texas, center, joins others with the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas in holding up his fists as indigenous and environmental activists protest in front of the White House in Washington, Oct. 11, 2021. President Joe Biden will announce steps Monday, Nov. 15, to improve public safety and justice for Native Americans during the first tribal nations summit since 2016, the White House said. Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

The Navajo Nation, which has more to lose by curbing oil and gas, has asked for a smaller radius around the site, an ancient center of Pueblo culture.

The tribal nations summit coincides with National Native American Heritage Month and is being hosted by the White House for the first time. The summit was not held during the Trump administration; past conferences took place at the Interior Department.

First lady Jill Biden also was set to speak on Monday, with Vice President Kamala Harris following on Tuesday. Several members of Biden's Cabinet will also participate.

Since taking office in January, Biden has taken several steps that the White House says demonstrate his commitment to tribal nations.

Among them are naming Haaland, a former congresswoman from New Mexico, as the first Native American to lead the Interior Department, the powerful federal agency that has wielded influence over U.S. tribes for generations. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo.

Biden's coronavirus relief plan included $31 billion for tribal communities, and the administration has worked closely with tribal leaders to help make COVID-19 vaccination rates among Native Americans among the highest in the country, the White House said.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty said she hoped the summit would help eliminate red tape when building critical infrastructure on tribal lands. She was also interested in "concrete action" from the administration through executive orders to provide as much support to help Native communities recover from COVID-19 and "the systemic under service of our communities."

Biden recently became the first president to issue a proclamation designating Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples' Day, giving a boost to longstanding efforts to refocus the federal holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus toward an appreciation of Native peoples.

Earlier this year, Jill Biden spent two days in April visiting the Navajo Nation's capital in Window Rock, Arizona.