San Carlos Apache caravan to stop mineral grab

Members of the San Carlos Apache tribe returned to Arizona this week after traveling to Washington DC to protest the proposed Resolution Copper Mine near Superior, Ariz. A land swap to facilitate the project got federal approval last December, when it was added to the National Defense Authorization Act, although a bill sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) aims to repeal that section of the measure. The protestors, from the group Apache Stronghold, oppose the swap, which would open Oak Flat, a part of Tonto National Forest that they hold sacred, to mining. Resolution Copper expects the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review to start by year's end. Caravan member Standing Fox said at the Capitol, "I'll die for my land." If lobbying and legislation don't work, then in a "worst-case scenario, we will be out there blockading. We'll be stopping the whole process physically."

Supporters of the mining project were quick to the counter-attack. "Anti-mining opponents have sunk to a new low by using members of the Apache tribe to further their misguided effort, in total disregard to the high levels of poverty and unemployment on the reservation," said Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), in a statement his office released in response to the Capitol rally on July 22.

Sen. John McCain also defended the project, saying in a prepared statement that Oak Flat Campground was established by a "1955 Interior Department Public Land Order for recreational purposes, not on any religious or cultural grounds…. The truth is, this land exchange legislation was a bipartisan compromise arrived at after a decade of debate and public testimony in Congress. It does not involve any tribal land or federally designated 'sacred sites.'"

The claim that it was an open process was challenged by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ). "The problem with the Resolution Copper deal was that it was put through a process that was not open and transparent," Gallego said. "It was tucked into the NDAA and I think it basically disempowered the public to know what’s going on with their federal lands."

Gallego is a co-sponsor of Grijalva's bill, HR 2811 (PDF), which would repeal section 3003 of the NDAA, that which approves the land swap. Grijalva was cheered when he told the Capitol rally: "We are going to win this fight." (KJZZ, Phoenix, July 30; Cronikite News, Arizona PBS, July 22; Dot Earth, NYT, July 17)

  1. San Carlos Apache lose bid to halt Resolution Copper project

    Federal District Judge Steven Logan in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Feb. 12 rejected a bid by the San Carlos Apache Tribe to bar the US Forest Service from transferring government-owned land to Rio Tinto PLC for its Resolution Copper project. Logan sided with government attorneys, finding that Washington gained the land in an 1848 treaty with Mexico and may dispose of it however it choses. (Reuters, Durango Herald)

  2. Forest Service puts land swap for copper mine on hold

    The US Forest Service on March 1 said it rescinded its January decision to publish an environmental report that cleared the way for an Arizona land swap needed for Rio Tinto Ltd’s Resolution Copper project. The decision effectively reverses one made by officials in the waning days of the Trump administration and comes less than a week after Tom Vilsack was sworn in as secretary of agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service. (Reuters)

  3. Appeals court rejects injunction to protect sacred Apache lands

    The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on March 5 denied a request for an emergency injunction seeking to stop the transfer of sacred Western Apache land to a private copper mining company. However, the land transfer is halted indefinitely pending the government’s release of a new final environmental impact survey (FEIS). (Jurist)

  4. Bill to prevent transfer of sacred Apache land

    US Rep. RaĂșl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced legislation March 15 to prevent the transfer of sacred Apache land to a copper mining company, offering permanent reassurance in a scenario that has posed a looming threat to the area since 2014. Grijalva’s Save Oak Flat Act would repeal Section 3003 of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which contains the clause granting the transfer. (Jurist)

  5. Appeals court rejects challenge to transfer of Apache land

    The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on June 24 ruled that a copper mining project does not violate the First Amendment religious rights of local Apache Indians.

    A 2014 act Congress requires the USDA to give Resolution Copper a piece of land called Oak Flat, which is an Apache sacred site. In the land exchange, Resolution Copper will give the US government nearby land plots. Apache Stronghold, a nonprofit organization, sued the government for violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and a trust obligation imposed on the US under the 1852 Treaty of Santa Fe.

    The appeals court found: “The government makes exercises of religion more difficult all the time. Doing so is not inherently coercive.” Apache Stronghold vowed to appeal the decisionimmediately to the US Supreme Court. (Jurist)