UPDATE 01. March 2021: OAK FLAT -- FOREST SERVICE PUTS SACRED OAK FLAT LAND GIVEAWAY ON TEMPORARY HOLD "FOR SEVERAL MONTHS"
UPDATE 20. February 2021: Chili Yazzie: The Planet is in Trouble, Time for Conversations with Indigenous Peoples
UPDATE 18. February 2021: APACHE APPEAL RULING ALLOWING SACRED OAK FLAT LAND GIVEAWAY. POWERHOUSE LAW FIRM BECKET JOINS APACHE STRONGHOLD LEGAL TEAM.
UPDATE 13. February 2021: U.S. judge will not stop land transfer for Rio Tinto mine in Arizona
UPDATE 12. January 2021: APACHE STRONGHOLD: JUDGE REFUSES INJUNCTION TO STOP SACRED OAK FLAT LAND GIVE AWAY AND DESTRUCTION
UPDATE 26. January 2021: Rio Tinto and BHP battle Apache to build North America's biggest copper mine at sacred Oak Flat site
UPDATE 16. January 2021: Outcry as Trump officials to transfer sacred Native American land to miners
ICYMI: EPA awards 3 companies $220M for cleanup of abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation
PROLOGUE: The Anglo-Australian mining conglomerate Rio-Tinto and multinational BHP (formerly BHP Billiton) from Australia are a disgrace to Earth. Rio-Tinto not only mine the largest mountain of gold in West-Papua illegally, poison rivers in Bougainville (PNG), work with corruption in the Republic of Guinea, have been prosecuted for fraud in buying African coal assets, but also destroy extremely important sacred sites of Aboriginal People of Australia without hesitation (well, for this one they got seriously punished). All this they do just for profit and to supply the Chinese war-machine with iron or the 'Green Deals' with copper for electrification solutions. Now they bribed together with BHP their way through the courts in the USA against the Apache First Nation and against international outcry. Stolen land can never become property of the thieves - be it Mexico or the USA - and must be in the caring hands of its righful owners! The only proper response by any honest investor is: DIVEST FROM RIO-TINTO and BHP !!!
The San Carlos Apache Indigenous people are fighting to block a massive mining project that would cut a two-mile wide crater through sacred land.
In front of the US Capitol, Native Americans protest a planned cooper mine in Arizona. Picture: Joseph Huff-Hannon
For many it was the last stop on a weeks-long cross-country journey to save a stretch of land in southeastern Arizona, revered by the Apache, from a massive mining project. One by one, Apache, Navajo and other Indigenous representatives took the stage, many of them in ceremonial camp dress. The procession was punctuated by calls to “Warrior up Apache,” and “Save Oak Flat!”
“I am not afraid to stand up for who I am,” said 16-year-old Naelyn Pike, “because I am Apache, because I believe in the creator, because I want to protect the mother earth.”
Last December, the Senate passed the $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act. Tucked deep inside the 697-page bill, which covered everything from military pay to training programs for Iraqi security forces, was a land exchange provision handing over 2,400 acres of Arizona’s Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper. The land exchange rider, introduced at the last minute, went largely unnoticed—but not by the San Carlos Apache.
For nearly a decade, they had successfully fought to protect a stretch of the park known as Oak Flat from Resolution Copper, a joint venture between foreign mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. The Apache and other local Indigenous peole consider the land holy and have used it for generations to hold religious ceremonies, from acorn gathering to coming of age rituals.
Since the defense bill passed, Apache activists and First Nation leaders have redoubled their efforts to save Oak Flat from mining that could create a crater up to two miles wide and a thousand feet deep. They’ve occupied the land since February and built a grassroots movement called Apache-Stronghold that caravaned across the country visiting other First Nations and opening concerts for rock legend Neil Young. This week, after three weeks on the road, they brought the fight to Washington. (Disclosure: the organization I work for, Avaaz, has been supporting the Apache’s efforts.)
Councilman Wendsler Nosie Sr., a former Apache chairman who is leading the effort to save Oak Flat, compares the site to Mount Sinai. “It’s our holy and sacred site,” he told The Nation. “Throughout time, these places have been destroyed, but now by itself [Oak Flat] has shown us enough is enough, that we have to draw the line to protect.”
Nosie is hopeful but well-aware of the obstacles ahead. Many Arizona lawmakers, including Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, support the mining proposal and have ties to the mining industry. McCain, in particular, reaffirmed his support for the deal the same day as the Apache’s rally, calling the defense bill’s rider, “a bipartisan compromise arrived at after a decade of debate and public testimony.”
The mine’s congressional supporters argue the project will inject desperately needed jobs and money into an economically depressed community. But Indigenous leaders like Chairman Terry Rambler question the number of jobs the mine would bring.
And the San Carlos Apache have allies in Congress as well. Last month, Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, introduced bi-partisan legislation to repeal the land exchange, calling it a “sweetheart deal”.
“We’ve been consistently opposed to this,” Grijalva told The Nation. “The historical irony in this whole thing is we’re violating a First American sacred site in order to facilitate a mining deal for a foreign mining company.”
Apache-Stronghold also has the backing of a growing number of Indigenous associations, including the National Congress of American Indians, which voted to support the effort to repeal the land exchange earlier this year. And over 1,000,000 people have signed an Avaaz petitioncalling on Congress to save Oak Flat.
The growing support for the Apache’s fight, propelled into the national spotlight by a New York Times op-ed this spring, was on display at this week’s Save Oak Flat rally. On stage with Native American activists were speakers from the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and a steady stream of House members.
At the rally, Noel Altaha sat under the shade of an umbrella, wearing a skyblue Apache T-necklace emblazoned with her name and an eagle, symbolizing her Apache clan affiliation. She joined the Apache-Stronghold’s caravan in New York, where members of this First Nation held a flash mob in Times Square last week.
Altaha spoke briefly in Apache before explaining her opposition to the mine, and her fears about the effects a mine would have on the sacred site, the area’s water supply, and on the safety of Apache women. “When you take away a person’s identity,” she said, “you take away their rights as an individual.”