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PROTECT OAK FLAT: SAVING APACHE SACRED GROUNDS

Editor’s Note: This video, PROTECT OAK FLAT: SAVING APACHE SACRED GROUNDS, was produced by Paper Rocket Productions on Vimeo.  This is the accompanying text, also by Paper Rocket Productions:

For nearly a decade, Resolution Copper Mining, a subsidiary of British-Australian mining conglomerate Rio Tinto, had unsuccessfully sought ownership of Oak Flat Campground.
Yet, on December 19, 2014, with the help of Senator John McCain, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013 resurfaced within the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and was successfully passed by the Senate and signed off by President Obama .
The new legislation will open up Oak Flat for copper mining.

As part of the deal, Resolution Copper will swap roughly 7.8 square miles of land scattered across Arizona for roughly 3.8 square miles of Tonto National Forest, which includes Oak Flat.

Resolution Copper is required to work with the U.S. Forest Service to do an environmental impact study, however, they are guaranteed to get the land, regardless of what the study shows.

Also, the company has chosen a cheaper method of extraction called block cave mining. The aftermath of the mining will result in a crater two miles wide and up to 1,000 feet deep, destroying the surface of the land as well as generate nearly a cubic mile of mine waste.

Protect Sacred Sites
Special Thanks to:
Wendsler Nosie Sr.
John Mendez
Naelyn Pike

And all our Apache and Diné Relatives
Ahé éhé

Hundreds Gather at Oak Flat to Fight for Sacred Apache Land

As the morning sun rose high enough to burn off the chilly overnight temperatures, mesquite fires scattered throughout the Oak Flats Campground offered a warm welcome to a special day for Arizona’s San Carlos Apache tribe.

Michael Paul Hill/Facebook Protesters gathered for a day of spiritual succor at Oak Flat, the sacred Apache site that was all but handed over to Resolution Copper in the latest must-pass federal defense-spending bill.

Michael Paul Hill/Facebook
Protesters gathered for a day of spiritual succor at Oak Flat, the sacred Apache site that was all but handed over to Resolution Copper in the latest must-pass federal defense-spending bill.

Some 300 tribal members and supporters from across the country had gathered to protest the infringement of traditional Apache holy lands. There were Chippewa, Navajo, Lumbi, Pauite, Havasupai, and representatives of the National American Indian Movement and the National American Indian Veterans group, as well as non-indigenous supporters representing myriad concerns including those of environmentalists and other lovers of nature. All were furious at Congress’s sneaky transfer of sacred Apache land to a mining company and vowing to do what they could to see that it didn’t happen.

“What was once a struggle to protect our most sacred site is now a battle,” said San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler, organizer of the grassroots movement aimed at stopping transfer of hundreds of acres of ceremonial land to those who would dig a mile-wide hole in the ground in a search for copper.

RELATED:  San Carlos Apache Would Get Biggest Shaft Ever in Copper Mine Land Swap

San Carlos Apache Leader Seeks Senate Defeat of Copper Mine on Sacred Land

Arizona’s Apache Tribe represents a culturally rich society with heritage tied to Mother Earth. As a people, they extend a Hon Dah welcome greeting to all who wish to share their culture and history. But now they are fighting to keep their holy lands culturally sacrosanct.

“Our homelands continue to be taken away,” said former San Carlos Chairman Wendsler Nosie Sr., decrying what he termed the dirty way in which a land-swap rider had been attached to a must-pass bill that sailed through Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The amended legislation, with the support of Arizona Senator John McCain, was “an action that constitutes a holy war, where tribes must stand in unity and fight to the very end,” according to Nosie.

The legislation that the former chairman termed “the greatest sin of the world” is the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, which gives a 2,400-acre tribally sacred site to a global mining entity, Resolution Copper, that wants to destroy its natural state with a massive mine intended to extract an ore body located 7,000 feet below ground level. That ground is hallowed to the Apache peoples whose reservation border is just east of the proposed mine at Oak Flat, home to Indigenous Peoples since prehistoric times, a place where acorns and medicinal herbs are gathered and coming-of-age ceremonies are held.

Kicked off by earlier protests in both Tucson and outside Senator McCain’s Phoenix office, the multi-pronged awareness approach to mitigate the potential fate of Oak Flat picked up momentum via a two-day, 44-mile, march from the San Carlos tribal headquarters and culminated in a weekend-long Gathering of Nations Holy Ground Ceremony, “A Spiritual Journey to a Sacred Unity,” at Oak Flat.

Following a holy ground blessing, the morning was filled with traditional, cultural and religious dances, with Rambler dancing and Wendsler joining the group of drummers. The weekend of solidarity was epitomized by guest speaker and activist preacher John Mendez.

“What the system doesn’t know, what Resolution Copper doesn’t know, is there is nothing that can break our spirit and keep us from moving forward to victory,” Mendez told the assembled. “This is a protracted struggle, but if we stay true to task, we will win. A single flame can start a large fire, and we’ve created a fire that cannot be extinguished.”

The Apache struggle has become part of the ongoing battle worldwide for Indigenous Peoples protecting sites that are sacred to them because of the places’ importance to both spiritual and physical survival.

“This issue is among the many challenges the Apache people face in trying to protect their way of life,” Chairman Rambler told Indian Country Today. “At the heart of it is freedom of religion, the ability to pray within an environment created for the Apache. Not a manmade church, but like our ancestors have believed since time immemorial, praying in an environment that our creator god gave us. At the heart of this is where Apaches go to pray—and the best way for that to continue to happen is to keep this place from becoming private land.”

RELATED: San Carlos Apache Leader: ‘What Was a Struggle to Protect Our Most Sacred Site Is Now a Battle’

Yavapai-Apache Chairman: ‘Oak Flat Holy Sites are Central to Apache Spiritual Beliefs’

Spiritual Unity Can Save Sacred Apache Land From Mining

Despite Obama’s signature on the measure, the administration has expressed displeasure as to how the legislation flew under the radar to become law.

“I am profoundly disappointed with the provision of the bill that has no regard for lands considered sacred by nearby Indian tribes,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

The passage has created numerous schisms.

“The nearly decade-long fight over access to the federally protected land has ignited a feud that has split families and ended lifelong friendships,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

It also has united those who oppose Rambler, and the ongoing, nearly 10-year-old struggle has garnered support from more than 500 tribes, many who face similar situations with mining or development proposed in areas that other Native Americans consider holy. If this can happen to the Apache nation, it can happen to any other nation was the general feeling.

“We have a similar situation with an effort to build a tramway down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon,” said Lorenzo Robbins, a Navajo from Northern Arizona.

“We’re fighting a strong battle to protect Mother Earth from uranium mining,” said Uqalla, a member of the Havasupai tribe. “The responsibility of all indigenous spiritual carriers is to protect the earth.”

Rambler, welcoming the support, said it is indeed everyone’s battle.

“We must stand together and fight,” Rambler said. “We’re drawing a line in the sand on this one. We’re against this specific project because it’s going to desecrate and destroy this whole area and the Apache way of life we are accustomed to.

“This gathering and our direction in the future is to keep an awareness of the situation in the public mind, in the mind of Congress, and to let everyone know this issue is not going to go away,” Rambler said. “We need to stay on top of it every day to make sure our voices are heard. We’re praying to our creator god, asking him to guide us throughout this whole process so that we can win in the end and preserve what he created for us.”

Video: What Resolution Copper Wants to Inflict on Apache Sacred Land

 

 

Washington Post: Proposed Oak Flat copper mine debate

When former miner Roy Chavez heard about plans to develop the nation’s largest copper mine near Superior, Ariz., he thought it might be the salvation of the economically struggling town where he’d grown up and served as mayor.

But as he learned more about the proposal to tap an ore body more than 7,000 feet deep with a method known as “block cave” mining, he changed his mind. Now he fears that the project would be environmentally destructive and limit Superior’s ability to develop tourism and other industries.

“Mining is the nature of the beast in this area. I support the industry and the livelihood it provides,” said Chavez, who comes from a mining family and worked in the Magma Copper mine nearby until it closed in 1996. “But there’s a situation here with this project that just doesn’t sit well with us.”

Resolution Copper Mining, a firm owned by subsidiaries of international mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, is seeking a land swap with the federal government that would give it ownership of 2,400 acres in the Tonto National Forest, where the rich mineral vein was discovered a decade ago. In return, Resolution Copper would give the public more than 5,500 acres of land it owns in various parcels around the region.

But the land the company wants to mine includes popular rock-climbing areas and Oak Flat Campground, which President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955 designated off-limits to mining. Native American tribes consider much of the area sacred, and they worry about earth caving in and damaging landmarks such as Apache Leap, where warriors are said to have jumped to their deaths rather than surrender to Arizona soldiers. The proposed mining area is also home to at least one federally listed endangered species, the Arizona hedgehog cactus.

Resolution Copper says the mine would become the country’s largest source of copper – supplying half a billion tons a year and meeting a fifth of national demand for 50 years. It would also employ 1,400 people on-site during peak operations, for an estimated total economic impact of $46.4 billion during its 66-year lifetime, according to the company.

To secure the land swap, Arizona Sens. John McCain (R) and Jon Kyl (R) introduced legislation in 2009.Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) added authorization of the deal to the America’s Great Outdoors Act of 2010, an omnibus lands bill that was pulled in late December in the face of Republican opposition.

[Editor’s Note: The Washington Post added this correction: “This article…incorrectly said that Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) had added authorization of the deal to the America’s Great Outdoors Act of 2010, a bill that was pulled in late December in the face of Republican opposition. The provision was not in the bill as it was introduced, but it was in a draft version that was leaked and publicized by opponents of the land swap in early December 2010.”]

While McCain’s 2009 bill would have basically ensured the land transfer, Reid’s would have authorized the land swap with final approval contingent on the environmental assessment process mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act and approval from the secretary of the interior.

Jon Cherry, Resolution Copper vice president for legal, external and environmental affairs, said the company is confident legislation similar to Reid’s bill will pass in 2011. Along with McCain and Kyl, Rep.-elect Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) supports the project and recently toured the mine site.

‘This is a mining town’

Superior Mayor Michael Hing said the mine would make a “night and day” difference for the town that he’s watched shrink to less than half its former size – currently about 3,200 residents – since the Magma mine closed. Hing’s grandfather came to the area from China in the 1920s to start small businesses serving miners.

“We’ve been through the ups and downs of the boom times, when strikes happened, when mines shut down,” he said. “This has always been our livelihood. This is a mining town. That’s why we live here.”

But Chavez, who now works as a planning consultant and owns a bar, and other opponents say the mine would destroy the landscape, severely affect tourism and potentially contaminate groundwater. They are particularly concerned about the block-cave method, which involves blasting a space below the ore body and using gravity to harvest the ore. This leaves large empty cavities underground. There are several other block-cave copper mines in the region, 60 miles east of Phoenix, causing the surface to collapse and crack in some areas.

In an e-mail, Cherry said the company is doing studies to ensure that groundwater will not be contaminated and that natural features such as Apache Leap will not be harmed. He said the mine would increase rather than reduce tourism, and that part of the land swap involves the company transferring land ideal for rock climbing to the public.

“The mine itself, when it’s operational, presents an attractive tourist destination,” Cherry said. “We approach our project development with a long view where the mine serves as a sustainable environmental, economic and social stimulus locally even after it closes.”

Mine opponents note that the U.S. Forest Service regularly grants mining concessions on public land and say Resolution Copper should seek one rather than taking ownership of the land. They fear that if Resolution Copper owns the land, environmental impact studies will be less comprehensive and not open to public scrutiny.

Cherry said the company needs the land swap to carry out the environmental assessments and petition for permission to mine. Resolution Copper has launched a social media campaign to build public support for the land transfer, including YouTube videos and Facebook groups. Cherry said company polling showed more than 80 percent of locals support the mine.

Public vs. private

But Daniel Patterson, a Democratic state representative out of Tucson and southwest director for the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said Arizonans are wary of privatizing public land.

“This is a state with a substantial amount of mining, but also where people generally value public lands and want to make sure corporations aren’t ripping us off,” said Patterson, who formerly worked as an ecologist for the Bureau of Land Management. “This is a corporate giveaway. There is a lot of skepticism over the fairness – taking it to Washington, D.C., rather than really analyzing it on the ground.”

Nyal J. Niemuth, chief mining engineer for the Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources – a state agency that promotes mining – said the Resolution Copper project would “be like the Super Bowl,” invigorating the industry statewide for decades. He said the ore body’s discovery a decade ago has prompted significant exploration – and economic infusion – as mining companies “are trying to duplicate the find, though no one has yet.”

He called environmental and recreational concerns misguided in a state that has staked its identity on mining for more than a century.

A report from the Arizona Mining Association says the industry had $3 billion in statewide direct economic impact in 2009 – employing 9,100 people, paying $151 million to state and local governments and spending more than $2 billion on goods and services from Arizona businesses.

“This is a bright spot in our otherwise dismal Arizona economy,” Niemuth said, adding that it is especially important since the economic crisis chilled residential development. “We’re not pounding a lot of nails out here, but we live in a very complicated world. Some people want jobs; other people . . . want to oppose things.”

President Obama signs land exchange into law signaling new phase in the protection of Oak Flat

By the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition

On December 19, 2014, President Obama signed the National defense Authorization Act into law.  The bill contained the Oak Flat land exchange.  This particular version of the land exchange was the 13th since the bill was first introduced in Congress by convicted former Congressman, Rick Renzi in 2005.  Senator Flake, who previously worked for Rio Tinto at their uranium mine (co-owned by the Iranian government) in Namibia, acknowledged what we all knew, the bill could not pass the US Congress on its own merits.

This is the culmination of 10 years of work by Arizona’s Senators and some Congressmen at the behest of Rio Tinto and represents a huge Christmas present for the international mining giant.  However, the bill’s passing is a lump of coal in the stocking of all Arizonians.  Senators McCain, and Flake did their best to subvert the will not only of Native American Tribes, conservation organizations, the Superior Town Council, and others, but the will of the United States Congress who has forcefully rejected the land exchange for nearly 10 years.

This new version of the bill does not turn over Oak Flat to Rio Tinto until 60 days after the publishing of a Final Environmental Impact Statement.  While this represents a major departure from normal procedure and limits any ability to mitigate or say no to the proposed mine, it does allow additional time, as the US Forest Service will go through the motions of conducting the process mandated by the National Environmental Policy act (NEPA). This process will take years and will allow opportunities for this mistake to be rectified.  Until that time, Oak Flat remains public land owned by all Americans free to be enjoyed and celebrated by all.

Rio Tinto and its supporters would like to think that this dirty underhanded deal will make our opposition go away, but nothing will be further from the truth.  Rio Tinto has finally shown how much it cares for the rule and process of law.  Like a schoolyard bully, Rio Tinto threw a tantrum until it finally got its way.  But in the process, the company showed its true colors.  Folks from all walks of life and from across this great nation and indeed, the world, are rising up against this miscarriage of justice and are clamoring to help us protect Oak Flat.

The passage of the land exchange marks the end of but one phase of our struggle to protect Oak Flat.  We have many avenues to protect Oak Flat and we will travel them all until we succeed.

Interior Secretary Jewell was very disappointed in the passage of the land exchange and said, “I am profoundly disappointed with the Resolution Copper provision, which has no regard for lands considered sacred by nearby Indian tribes. The provision short circuits the long-standing and fundamental practice of pursuing meaningful government-to-government consultation with the 566 federally recognized tribes with whom we have a unique legal and trust responsibility.”

“Although there are consultation requirements in the legislation, the appropriate time for honoring our government-to-government relationship with tribes is before legislating issues of this magnitude. The tribe’s sacred land has now been placed in great jeopardy.”

In a guest editorial in the Arizona Republic, James Anaya, the former United Nations Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, condemned the passage of the land exchange, saying, “it represents a shameful circumventing of democratic process in the face of environmental concerns and potential violations of the religious and cultural rights of the Apache people.”

These and many other powerful and well-spoken people are clear in their displeasure over Rio Tinto’s actions.

The Mother of All Anti-Fracking Tools

The first county in the United States to outlaw fracking has an idea that could give environmentalists the upper hand—and deliver a major setback to big oil.

By: Jacob Baynham, Outside Magazine, June 2014

blowout-fracking

Mora County, New Mexico, a patchwork of prairie, foothills, and high peaks on the east flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, unemployment stands at 16 percent, county workers operate out of leaky temporary buildings, and the population density is so low—just two people per square mile—that the tiny community and its largest town, 300-person Wagon Mound, are still classified as frontier by state health officials.

In short, Mora isn’t the kind of place that comes to mind for a national showdown on fracking. But in April 2013, county commissioners took center stage in the fight by passing the Community Water Rights and Local Self-Governance Ordinance, which declared it illegal for companies to extract hydrocarbons anywhere in the county, making Mora the first in the U.S. to ban oil and gas drilling outright, on public and private land.

Not surprisingly, lawsuits soon followed. The county was sued in federal district court in Albuquerque late last year by theIndependent Petroleum Association of New Mexico (IPANM) and three local property owners. In January, a second suit was filed by Shell Western, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s sixth-largest oil company.

The likely outcome? Busy lawyers. But the suits could also set a nationwide precedent by settling an interesting argument: Does a community’s right to self-governance trump the rights of corporations? The county ordinance’s basic aim is to protect the water supply in a parched region of a drought-stricken state, but it also contains a bill of rights for the environment, which argues that natural ecosystems “possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist.”

The lawsuit by Royal Dutch Shell claims that Mora County’s rule denies the company its constitutional rights, chief among them corporate personhood, which states that a business has the same rights as an individual. (The controversial Citizens United Supreme Court ruling cemented corporations’ constitutional right to free speech.)

“This ordinance denies our property interest by declaring to criminalize virtually any activity undertaken by a corporation relating to oil and gas exploration and production,” says Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell.

Some environmentalists say that’s the whole point and are eager to test it. The ordinance was drafted with help from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania nonprofit. CELDF cofounder Thomas Linzey acknowledges that provisions in the document contradict existing laws, but he relishes the chance to defend the self-governance statute before a judge. As the case goes into litigation, tiny Mora County, which doesn’t even have a stoplight, could help usher in a series of similar laws, and CELDF is working hard to ensure that this happens. It’s a fight Big Green groups have failed to take up, says Linzey, so it’s being waged at the grassroots level.

“Environmental folks don’t seem to give a shit,” he says. “They complain that the existing laws, which are stacked against us, are the only tools we have. We say maybe you should invent some new tools, because you’re not protecting anything.”

Banning oil and gas extraction under the purview of local government isn’t new. In 2010, Pittsburgh became the first city to ban fracking, which uses high-pressure water and chemicals to release oil and gas from subterranean shale deposits. Since then, more than 400 municipalities have instituted similar resolutions. The bans have mostly come in the form of zoning changes that keep the industry outside city limits.

But gas companies don’t drill in cities; they drill in the areas around them. That’s what makes Mora County’s ordinance unique. It bans energy extraction from a huge undeveloped area, nearly 1.2 million acres of rolling prairie, piñon and ponderosa forests, and 13,000-foot peaks.

“The oil and gas industry felt like it could contain these sorts of initiatives on a city-by-city scale,” says Eric Jantz, a staff attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, which is defending Mora County in the suit brought by IPANM. “But once you start getting into countywide prohibitions, that’s something the oil and gas industry has bigger concerns about.”

John Olivas, the Mora County commission chairman who helped pass the ordinance, says county commissioners voted for the sweeping legislation because regulations and zoning rules—typical anti-fracking tools—are simple loopholes that the industry would one day march through. “If the price is right for these corporations,” he says, “they’re coming.”

Karin Foster, the executive director of IPANM, counters that Mora County has been commandeered by a rogue environmental group. “This community-rights ordinance appeals to uneducated people in small communities that feel like they need to fight the man,” Foster says. “I don’t think the people leading them have their interests in mind.”

Some locals agree. Mora County is 80 percent Hispanic, and many residents are suspicious of Anglo groups coming in with an agenda, be it industrial or environmental. “That’s a real missionary attitude, to come into a place and say, ‘We’re going to protect you,’ ” says Sofia Martinez, an environmental -justice activist from Wagon Mound. Martinez opposes fracking, but she wishes that the county had taken a regulatory approach, one that didn’t expose it to potentially lengthy and expensive lawsuits. (Though the county has pro bono representation, by CELDF, among others, it may have to pay damages if it loses.)

Mora County’s case is likely to take years to resolve. Any ruling will almost assuredly be appealed, moving the case to the Tenth Circuit Court in Denver. But for now, Mora has become a cause célèbre, with other counties—like San Miguel, in New Mexico, and Johnson, in Illinois—considering similar bans. Cities and counties are now even working on community ordinances outlawing things like factory farms and GMO crops.

“We’ve all heard about Mora County,” says Sandra Steingraber, one of the nation’s most outspoken anti-fracking activists and author of Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis. Steingraber has been watching the fight all the way from upstate New York, where she’s battling at the township level. “The science is certainly on our side, and it points to the need for a nationwide ban,” Steingraber says. “Now we’ll see if the law ends up on our side.”