Arizona Congressmen Steal Apache Sacred Land and Natural Treasure for Foreign Mining Corporations

Baase Pike and Qualiyah Nosie enjoy the natural springs at Oak Flat over the weekend. This water flows down from Oak Flat into Gaan Canyon on its east side.
October 2, 2015
Renee Babcock

When corporations are erroneously considered people and spending money is a form of protected speech, property rights become more valuable than human rights. Despite twenty-seven changes over the last 226 years, the United States Constitution continues to be used to enshrine property rights for wealthy white men while conspicuously excluding human rights for everyone else.

Few understand this better than Native Americans, whose ancestors were cheated, robbed and systematically killed by white America. This legacy of brutality is echoed in a recent land-exchange bill which passed unnoticed within last December's defense appropriations bill despite being repeatedly rejected by Congress for over a decade.

Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake added the land exchange, using a last minute controversial maneuver to slip the unrelated provision into the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, a $585-billion must-pass military spending bill. The provision gives 2,422 mineral-rich acres of the Tonto National Forest, including Apache ancestral land known as Oak Flat, to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary to the two largest mining corporations in the world, British-owned Rio Tinto and Australian-owned BHP Billiton.

Unsurprisingly, the chief architects of this land grab have been working with mining corporations to pass their agendas in typical quid pro quo fashion. Sen. McCain is perennially the top Congressional recipient of Rio Tinto's campaign contributions and before running for Senate, Flake was a Washington lobbyist for Rio Tinto, which has spent over $10 million in lobbying in the past decade.

Now, the San Carlos Apache are fighting for their religious freedom, cultural heritage, and future. This summer the Apache Stronghold coalition caravanned across the country, speaking at Neil Young concerts, flash mobbing Time Square, and arriving at the Capitol to protest the US government illegally handing over their sacred land to foreign mining corporations that will destroy it and take its mineral wealth for their own profit.

The Land-Exchange Violates US Law, Federal Protections, and Indigenous Religious Freedom

The land is sacred to the Western Apache and Yavapai whose spiritual beings live within Oak Flat and who have used the site for generations. These religious and cultural ties have been recognized and protected by the federal government since 1955, when President Eisenhower decreed Oak Flat a Forest Service Multiple-Use Area, specifically closed to mining.

Resolution's mining method, Block-Cave mining, will completely destroy Oak Flat and the adjacent rare diverse riparian ecosystems, leaving a crater 2 miles wide and 1,000 feet deep and creating 1.7 billion tons of toxic waste, with no plans for safe disposal. Natural water resources will be at very high risk of contamination, affecting groundwater and the water aquifer shared by towns of Miami, Globe and the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Other neighboring communities, Superior and Queens Valley voted unanimously against the mine in 2013.

According to Mint Press News, "The National Environmental Policy Act stipulates that an impact assessment on the environment, archaeological and historic sites, as well as spaces considered sacred by Native Americans, must be completed prior to a land swap." However, the land exchange was passed in NDAA 2015 before any assessment had been done and the language of sec. 3003 stipulates that no matter the outcome of the environmental impact study or consultations with affected tribes, the land will still be transferred to Resolution. This clearly and directly violates US law and American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.

This is not an isolated incident. As a majority of the remaining mineral resources in the west are on federal land, this case sets a dangerous precedent, as it will allow legislators and the corporations they serve to ignore basic principles of federal-tribal relations and mandated environmental impact analyses.

Clearly, US law, the wishes of local communities, native religious freedom, and the voice of the Houses do not matter to Resolution and their paid-off legislators, who are determined to get their multi-billion dollar mine at any expense.

But the battle is far from over. The National Congress of American Indians and over 450 tribal governments have pledged support to the San Carlos Apache, over a million people have signed petitions calling on Congress to repeal the land exchange, and Apache Stronghold has been occupying Oak Flat campground since February.

The San Carlos Apache tribe marched 45 miles from San Carlos to Oak Flat campground in March and will remain there until the land-exchange is repealed.
(image by Roger Hill)