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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

 

 

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.

Arizona copper mine will hurt tribes and the environment

By James Anaya, for AZ Central

James Anaya: Rio Tinto should make some lands off limits to mining and abandon the project if it can’t gain local support.

Congress recently authorized an exchange of land so the multinational giant Rio Tinto can proceed with its Resolution Copper Mine project in eastern Arizona. The land to be conveyed to the company was taken from the Apache people more than a century ago, but Apache today continue to claim strong cultural and religious ties to the land.

The congressional authorization can be seen as a victory for the foreign-owned mining company. At the same time, 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.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe, with numerous other Indian tribes across the country, had successfully opposed stand-alone legislation for the land swap because of these fundamental human-rights concerns. Leaders in Superior had voted to revoke support for the mine.

The mining company, however, convinced key members of the Arizona congressional delegation to authorize the land swap through an amendment buried in the must-pass National Defense Appropriations Act.

The new legislation does not make the land swap immediately effective. Several steps will have to be completed, including an extensive process of environmental review and consultations. Still, it makes the land swap and eventual mining appear to be a foregone conclusion.

Proponents of the mine, including Sen. John McCain, have stressed that the project will lead to needed jobs and generate significant economic activity. But whether or not the American people or Arizonans will fairly benefit economically in comparison with what the foreign company will profit remains highly debatable.

In any case, most Americans understand that the prospect of jobs or economic gain for some cannot alone carry the day, lest all those places rich in natural or cultural bounty that have been set aside as national treasures would be at risk.

The owners of the Resolution Mine project, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, subscribe to guidelines adopted by the International Council on Mining and Metals establishing, in keeping with United Nations standards, that mining companies should work to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples and ensure full respect for their rights, as preconditions to the implementation of mining projects that affect them.

Rio Tinto, especially, has worked to follow these guidelines with a number of its projects around the world, building what many human rights and environmental advocates consider to be good practices.

But the land swap authorization for Resolution Mine was not predicated on the San Carlos Apache’s consent or widespread local support. Instead, the congressional authorization came amid continuing disagreement about the environmental and cultural impacts of the land swap and eventual mining, through a truncated legislative process that altogether avoided confronting the points of disagreement.

Any chances of now meeting local concerns and coming to an agreement with the tribe have been severely damaged.

The only way that those chances might be bettered is for the company to make clear it understands that some places, because of their religious or cultural significance or environmental sensitivities, are simply off limits to mining, and to commit to refraining from moving forward with the land swap or any mining without broad local community support and agreement with the tribe.

The company should be prepared to alter its planned land swap and mining activity, or altogether abandon it, if the company cannot obtain the social license that broad local support and agreement with the tribe would provide.

S. James Anaya is a Regents’ Professor at the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law. He served as the United Nations Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples from 2008 to 2014.