By Chris Gomez

As a person working with the education of Native American students of all ages, I work hard to provide students with safe places that foster a love of learning, sense of community, leadership, and respect for diversity. But sometimes the best learning environment is not a classroom at all – it’s the natural world. Public lands are one teacher who leaves us all in fascination and awe, no matter our age.

Chris Gomez

Every carve in a rock tells a story. Every plant is the descendant of thousands and will be the ancestor of millions more. Every bird knows when to arrive and when it’s time to move on. Nature is amazing and it has so many lessons to teach us if we are simply willing to learn.

In an increasingly developed world where humans and nature seem to be pitted against each other, our lands are at risk of ecosystemic damage in the name of development.

But here in El Paso, things are different – we have an immediate opportunity to protect land at the heart of our city: Castner Range.

A local group of organizations and supporters, the Castner Range Coalition, has been diligently working to protect our mountains before it’s too late. I am thankful for the Castner Range Coalition’s dedication to the future of this land because Castner Range still has more to teach our community and its visitors.

People ask me, what is your favorite part of working with young Native students? I always have a different response – there are a lot of reasons to love the job, but it is probably one of the greatest honors to bear witness to the spark of human fascination. As children’s minds develop and grow, so does their interest in the world around them.

Our lands have been integral to our livelihood in ways we cannot even know. We must ensure their protection for our children and future generations.

As the former lieutenant governor of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, I have had a front-row seat over the years to witness the growth and development of communities in our Paso del Norte region. However, as we continue to thrive and as people and cities flourish, we must reframe our perspective. These communities will not end with us, and the beautiful region and landscape we enjoy today are not guaranteed.

These lands must be preserved for all people in El Paso and every coming generation of El Pasoans. As someone who works in the educational field, this is my mission and should be a shared effort across our communities.

Currently, access to protected lands in the United States is not equitable. Our region has lacked in this regard for a long time. Does this mean that the lands around us are not worth protecting or are somehow less rich in history, biodiversity, archeology, geologic significance or ecological necessity? Quite the opposite! Our land is full of all these things and more, which makes our fight for equitable access for our children to these lands that much more important. 

Ensuring their accessibility, not just to those here today, but for those here tomorrow is paramount and a priority.

So this Earth Day, I am asking El Paso to stand proudly together to join the fight to preserve our land. We owe a debt of gratitude to our congresswoman, Veronica Escobar who has been a true champion for Castner Range, now we need to call on President Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to permanently protect Castner Range as a national monument. 

Though they may not know it yet, our children need this land – the beauty, protection, vibrance and shelter – it has provided us and those here before us.

Chris Gomez is the former lieutenant governor of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and works as an educational administrator.