Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva introduced the Save Oak Flat Act, on June 15th, which repeals an unjustified congressional giveaway of sacred Native American land to a mining company called Resolution Copper co-owned by multinational mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a companion bill in the upper chamber on June 15th.
Section 3003 of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act authorized the transfer of 2,422 acres in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper despite the area’s cultural importance to the San Carlos Apache and other local tribes in the region. 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 destroyed.
“Using our military as an excuse to give sacred land away to a mining company is a cynical abuse of power.”
Grijalva’s bill – a successor to his H.R. 2811 from the 114th Congress – would repeal section 3003, which has no connection to national defense. Grijalva has taken a leading lawmaker role in the ongoing Save Oak Flat movement and hosted a congressional forum on the issue in the last Congress.
“Using our military as an excuse to give sacred land away to a mining company is a cynical abuse of power,” said Grijalva. “This is exactly the kind of Beltway corporate favoritism the American people can’t stand, and it needs to be undone immediately. Supporting this bill means standing up for tribal sovereignty and environmental quality. Opposing it means handing American resources over to a multinational conglomerate with no interest in our economy, let alone American Indian rights.”
Resolution Copper’s proposed mine is directly adjacent to Apache Leap, a beautiful escarpment of unique archeological and historical significance, where Apaches pursued by the 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 the respected journal Science in 2014 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.”
The Tribe’s campaign to protect Oak Flat has been profiled in numerous publications.
Section 3003 is strongly opposed by Indian tribes across the country because of the dangerous precedent it has set. 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.