Grijalva Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Repeal Giveaway of Sacred Arizona Native American Land to Multinational Mining Conglomerates
By Robin Silver
Center for Biological Diversity
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva today introduced the “Save Oak Flat Act,” which repeals a recent congressional giveaway of sacred Native American land to a company called Resolution Copper co-owned by multinational mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.
Section 3003 of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act authorizes the transfer of 2,422 acres in the Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper despite its cultural importance to the San Carlos Apache Tribe and the Yavapai-Apache Nation. The area, known as Oak Flat, has been home to tribal acorn gathering and traditional religious ceremonies for centuries. If Resolution Copper continues with its stated plans to establish a so-called block cave mine on the land, its environmental and cultural value will be severely damaged.
The proposed mine is directly adjacent to Apache Leap, an especially sacred site where Apache warriors pursued by U.S. cavalry leapt to their deaths to avoid capture. Vernelda Grant, the tribal historic preservation officer for the San Carlos Apache Tribe,expressed concern in Science last year that, as the magazine put it, the mine is “right next door” to Apache Leap and “having a working copper mine next to the site will change how people experience it.” Section 3003 allows the following at Apache Leap itself:
(B) AUTHORIZED ACTIVITIES.—The activities that are authorized in the special management area are— (i) installation of seismic monitoring equipment on the surface and subsurface to protect the resources located within the special management area; (ii) installation of fences, signs, or other measures necessary to protect the health and safety of the public; and (iii) operation of an underground tunnel and associated workings, as described in the Resolution mine plan of operations, subject to any terms and conditions the Secretary may reasonably require.
Section 3003 has attracted opposition from tribal communities across the country because of the dangerous precedent it sets. By requiring the conveyance of the land regardless of the outcome of mandated federal consultation with affected tribes, it allows Congress essentially to ignore the basic principles of federal-tribal relations. The language also requires the conveyance regardless of the outcome of the mandatory environmental review process, ignoring decades of environmental precedent requiring land and water impact analysis ahead of major federal actions.
“What this unpopular corporate giveaway was doing in the national security bill is anyone’s guess, and we shouldn’t wait any longer to repeal it,” Grijalva said. “Congress shouldn’t be in the business of helping big corporations at others’ expense, and it certainly shouldn’t break faith with Native American communities. I’m proud to lead our bipartisan team in saying we should repeal this giveaway and stop treating corporate handouts as national defense priorities.”
The bill is cosponsored by Republican Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.), Markwayne Mullin (Okla.) and Walter Jones (N.C.) and Democratic Reps. Betty McCollum (Minn.), Norma Torres (Calif.), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Alcee Hastings (Fla.), Ben Ray Lujan (N.M.), Raul Ruiz (Calif.), Tony Cardenas (Calif.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Jared Polis (Colo.), Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) and Gwen Moore (Wisc.).