Mineral Debts: Allotment and Extraction in Northwestern New Mexico

Authors: Sonia Grant*,
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Political Geography, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: settler colonialism, energy, environment, jurisdiction
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Senate Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In northwestern New Mexico, Diné (Navajo) allottees have fought for decades to assert ownership of the minerals beneath their allotments, and have forced courts to define the federal government’s responsibility to manage and distribute royalties derived from the extraction of oil and gas from these minerals. I draw on long-term ethnographic research in a part of this region called “the checkerboard”. Extending outwards from the eastern edges of Navajo Nation, individual tracts of surface land, ranging from 40 to 160 acres, are varyingly owned and administered by federal, tribal, state, or private entities. The hydrocarbon-rich minerals that lie beneath this checkerboard surface also fall under different ownership and jurisdiction. An outcome of 19th century homesteading and Indian allotment policies, this complicated pattern of mismatched surface and subsurface jurisdiction is extremely consequential for hydrocarbon extraction, as most of the region’s subsurface minerals are managed by federal agencies, regardless of surface ownership or current or ancestral occupancy. The legacy of allotment has resulted in significant territorial dispossession for Diné peoples, and in severe land fractionation among Diné allottees. As a new fracking boom edges into the checkerboard, jurisdictional fragmentation also facilitates energy extraction. This paper asks, what kinds of relations of debt emerge from the now well-documented mismanagement of revenues derived from Native American mineral resources (Cobell v Salazar 2009)?

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