Since 2005, various federal legislators and foreign lobbyists have been trying to pass a bill known as the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange. This bill would privatize 2400 acres of land in the Tonto National Forest and open it up for mining by Resolution Copper Mining, a subsidiary of the British-Australian multinational mining group Rio Tinto.
Now, privatizing national park and forest land is bad enough. However, this case is especially egregious, as the land in question includes sites sacred to the San Carlos Apache tribe, such as Oak Flat, Gaan Canyon and Apache Leap, where 75 warriors leapt to their deaths rather than being killed or captured by U.S. troops in 1871.Terry Rambler, the San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman, said: “Since time immemorial people have gone there. That’s part of our ancestral homeland. We’ve had dancers in that area forever – sunrise dancers – and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They’ll seal that off. They’ll seal us off from the acorn grounds, and the medicinal plants in the area, and our prayer areas.”
The bill’s been voted down over a dozen times before, but this time it’s different. House Republicans attached the bill at the last minute to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a must-pass bill. Terry Rambler (again) explains it well in an article on Indian Country Today;
“Hundreds of tribal governments, tribal organizations, and others have joined San Carlos Apaches in opposition to the Land Exchange because it would transfer public federal lands that encompass a known Native place of worship to a private mining company. Because of this opposition, the majority of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives opposed the Land Transfer. House Leadership twice pulled it from consideration because this misguided Land Transfer lacked the votes for passage. The Senate Committee with jurisdiction over the bill also refused to move it forward.
In the face of this opposition, certain Members of Arizona’s delegation forced a closed-door deal to include the SE Arizona Land Exchange into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015. The Land Exchange was included in Section 3003 on page 1,103 of a 1,700-page bill that was unveiled after 11:00 p.m. the evening before it came up for consideration. This exemplifies everything wrong with Congress.”
Resolution Copper has acknowledged that Oak Flat will be damaged by the proposed mine due to its use of block-cave mining; they estimate that a two-mile wide crater will form there. Former San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Wendsler Nosie said; “Oak Flat is where the creator, God, touched the earth for us. These are our ancestral home places.”
You’re probably thinking; “Hold on. What about the EPA or the US Forest Service? Wouldn’t they have some authority?” Sadly, the answer is no. Because this is a congressional land exchange instead of an administrative exchange, the land goes directly to Resolution. If it were an administrative exchange, it would require the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management to determine that privatizing the land is in the public interest. And, since Resolution is a foreign company, the EPA has limited power over its operations.
The worst part though – once again, our government breaks an agreement with the Native American nations. Once again, we destroy an important part of the original inhabitants’ heritage. Once again, our elected representatives have sold themselves to the highest bidder.
Once again, they prove they have no respect for our Native brothers and sisters. Once again, they prove that they don’t honor the land or the culture. The shame is on us all.