Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 20, 2012

Arizona: Save Oak Flat from land exchange

On Feb. 8, Miss San Carlos, Desirae Rambler (left)
and San Carlos Apache Youth Council President (right),
support the testimony given by Shan Lewis (center),
President of the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona,
 in his testimony against passage of H.R.
Courtesy photo.
By Sandra Rambler
San Carlos Apache
Censored News
WASHINGTON -- On Feb. 8, Shan Lewis, President of the Inter-Tribal Council provided testimony to the members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in Washington, D.C. regarding opposition against H.R. 1904, also known as the proposed Southeastern Arizona Land Exchange Act.  President Lewis was accompanied by Terry Rambler, Tribal Chairman, Steve Titla, Tribal Attorney, Wendsler Nosie, Sr., Peridot District Councilmember, Vernelda Grant, Tribal Archaeologist, Tanayia White, Executive Assistant to the Chairman, Desirae Rambler, Miss San Carlos and some members of the Youth Council and their parents including Lanea Burdette, Youth Council President.  Other various tribal leaders from tribes within the U.S. were also present, namely Ben Shelly, President of the Navajo Nation.
Mr. Lewis began his testimony, “Good morning, Chairman Bingaman, Ranking Member Murkowski and other member of the committee.  My name is Shan Lewis, President of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona and Vice-Chairman of the Fort Mojave Tribe.  On behalf of the 20 member tribes of ITCA, thank you for letting me testify.”

“I would like for all of the tribal leaders here today to stand.  We are here to bring a united front in strong opposition to H.R. 1904.  Tribes from New Mexico, the Great Plains, the Northwest, California, the South, the East, the Midwest, the Navajo Nation, and many other tribes join us against the bill.”

“With the Committee’s permission, I would like to include in the record tribal letters and resolutions opposing this bill.  Also, I would like to include a statement from a San Carlos family about its upcoming sunrise dance t Oak Flat, celebrating a young woman’s coming of age.  This is just one example of great significance of Oak Flat to families who have held ceremonies there for centuries.”

“I have three fundamental points in my remarks, destruction of sacred sites, federal protections that no longer apply if this land becomes privatized and regional water resources that will permanently be altered, depleted and contaminated.”

Since 2004, Resolution Copper has done everything it can to pass this legislation that would direct the Forest Service to transfer sacred land in the Tonto National Forest so that it can develop a massive block cave copper mine.”

“To protect our holy places, it saddens us that we have to defend their legitimacy.  Oak Flat is one of the holy places of Western Apache and Yavapai tribes where Gaan, or spiritual beings reside.  The Gaan are considered Angels.  Just as a Church is a special place to Christians, Oak Flat is the equivalent for Apaches, Yavapais and others.  Many tribes go to these special for prayer, ceremonies, to gather ceremonial items, or for peace and personal cleansing.  These places are holy.”

“Federal laws and policies that protect sacred sites currently protect Oak Flat.  But, if this land is transferred to Resolution Copper where it would become private land, federal protections would disappear and this sacred area will be destroyed.  To give you an idea of the federal land that would be conveyed to the company, I have some maps.  The first map shows the Tonto Forest in relation to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona.  These lands are ancestral tribal lands.  Here, the second map shows Oak Flat in the Forest outlined in red.  The black outline shows land withdrawn from mining by President Eisenhower.”

“Resolution Copper wants these sacred lands to extract one cubic mile of ore located over one mile beneath the surface.  To give a mental picture, it would take over 1400 Cowboys Stadium to hold a cubic mile of ore.  The company plans to use the block cave method to extract this ore because it is far cheaper than other methods.”

“Here, this diagram depicts what the block cave mining process is.  The company would dig a tunnel downward over a mile long and then dig another tunnel to the ore body.  Once at the ore, they would blast away and extract massive amounts of ore using robotic technology a mile deep – technology that has not been developed.”

“The next diagram shows what happens once they start pulling out all this ore.  At some point, the surface starts to cave in – this is called the “intact zone.”  Given the massive amounts of earth that the company plans to extract, the surface will eventually collapse and the area will become an open pit.  This is called the “cave zone.”  We think the cave zone would be about 2 miles in diameter.  This open pit will be visible from outer space.  We have requested federal or independent studies on this project since 2005 without success.”

“Another grave concern is the permanent damage to surface and ground water.  This mine will deplete enormous quantities of water and pollute it, which will devastate our communities.  This water is a sacred element in tribal religious ceremonies.  Arizona is a desert, and we all have a right to know what happens to our water.  Again, there have been no federal or independent studies on this issue.”

“Here is a picture of a perennial spring at Oak Flat.  Mining here will dry up or contaminate this spring and other water sources at Oak Flat.  Here is a picture of the Oak Flat Campground and an ancient oak tree that has nourished us for centuries with its acorns.  This area is protected under the Eisenhower Withdrawal Order.  This area is in the cave zone and would be destroyed.”

“I would like to make three last points, this bill is a special deal or earmark for one company is foreign-owned.  The company claims that this project will create many jobs.  However, no money can replace the loss of sacred sites.  The company claims that this mine will be an extension of the old Magma mine in the area.  This is not true.  Magma was developed in the 1880’s with a much smaller blueprint.  Nevertheless, Magma destroyed our holy places.  Back then, we were POW’s until the early 1900’s and didn’t have the right to vote in Arizona until 1948.  We can’t turn back the clock, but we can say “NO” to this mine.”

“This bill would violate our government-to-government relationship and result in the destruction of a holy place.  Senators, you simply will not be able to mitigate that this mine will destroy,” concluded President Lewis.

Some of the tribes and national organizations that support the San Carlos Apache Tribe include the largest Indian National Organization, the National Congress of American Indians, which comprises of over 560 federally recognized Indian tribes, the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, the United Southern and Eastern Tries, Jicarilla Apache Tribe, Pueblo of Tesuque, Pueblo of Zuni, White Mountain Apache Tribe, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation, Susanville Indian Reservation, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, Arizona Mining Coalition, Concern Citizens and Retired Miner’s Coalition, Religious and Human Rights Organization, Concerned Climbers of Arizona, Mescalero Apache Nation, All Indian Pueblo Council, Eight Northern Indian Pueblos, Hopi Tribe, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas Association, Tohono O’Odham Nation, Azee Bee Nahagha of Dine Nation, Karuk Tribe, Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians, Navajo Nation, Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, Picuris Pueblo, Ramona Band of Cahuilla and others.

No comments: