It has come to our attention that our recently published article which stated that Congressional efforts to sell a campground sacred to the Western Apache in Arizona – Chi’chil Bildagotee – also known as Oak Flat – to British-Australian joint venture Resolution Copper had been foiled was factually incorrect. The designation of the site by the Federal Keeper of the Record as a historic district was a victory for the grassroots movement working to protect the land for two reasons – it increased awareness of their struggle and proved the pro-mining attempts to discredit the sanctity of the site were baseless. “It doesn’t have any teeth. It’s a victory maybe in that more people will understand this is a special place. But as far as the designation, it’s not stopping the mine” warns Apache elder Vincent Randall.
Oak Flat is believed to be a source of Ga’an, or mountain spirits, for the Apache people, and is the land of origin for the Apache group known as Dilzhe’e. It is also an area of rich archaeological significance, containing artifacts from the prehistoric Hohokam peoples as well as 19th century Apache groups. The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange, which allows for the unprecedented transfer of 2,400 acres of native lands to a foreign corporation, has been in the works for ten years, but failed to gain traction in Congress until Arizona Senators John McCain (R) and Jeff Flake (R) and Representatives Paul Gosar (R) and Ann Kirkpatrick (D) snuck the language (Section 3003) into the must-pass National Defense Authorization bill in December 2014, which funds the military – crucially, “without majority support from either the House or Senate and an amendment to remove Section 3003 was not allowed to be considered.” It was a cowardly and backhanded move, but one typical of modern Republican politics. Jodi Gillette, Special Assistant to the President on Native American Affairs, also warns that section 3003 “significantly weakens the environmental assessment generally required by the National Environmental Protection Act — an assessment that similarly should have been conducted before providing for the transfer of these lands.”
The danger to the site is still very real. The site can only be permanently protected by passing the “Save Oak Flat Act” repeal bills (HR2811 and S2242), sponsored by Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The repeal bills warn that Resolution Copper “plans to use the highly destructive block cave mining method to remove one cubic mile of ore that is now 7,000 feet beneath the surface of the earth without replacing any of the earth removed because that is the cheapest form of mining. Resolution Copper admits that the surface will subside and ultimately collapse, destroying forever this place of worship.”
The efforts by Arizona legislators to sell off native lands for corporate developments is further evidence that the American government refuses to take responsibility for the state-sponsored genocide and cultural repression of the indigenous peoples who were the first victims of American exceptionalism. Legislators continuously refuse to treat native lands with the respect that they deserve and show a wanton disregard for the health of the environment. Please contact your Congressmen and women and demand that they vote for the passage of the repeal bills and take a stand against the corporate desecration of holy land.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.