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)