Apache Lands Threatened by Congress

Can you imagine the world outcry if mining operations were approved on Mount Sinai? What about the national backlash if Congress approved development on the site of Gettysburg or at the foot of Mount Rushmore? There are certain sites that are too sacred for industry and business to touch — they must remain hallowed ground for future generations to visit, appreciate, and look back.

That’s why it’s so disturbing that Congress would give Apache burial, medicinal, and ceremonial grounds to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. Why does Congress believe some cultures’ sites are more important than others?

Photo by Matthew Batchelder https://flic.kr/p/6en3T
Apache Leap in Superior, Ariz. (Photo by Matthew Batchelder, Flickr)

Apache Land and Memories

The land that Resolution Copper proposes to mine includes sacred territories Apaches have used for centuries. At Oak Flat, Apaches have harvested acorns, which is part of their natural diet and their religious traditions. The site also serves as a gathering point for medicinal herbs and ceremonies. It’s so important that it was recognized and protected by President Eisenhower in 1955 when he signed Public Land Order 1229, which specifically put this land off limits to future mining activity.

“Since time immemorial people have gone there. That’s part of our ancestral homeland,” said Terry Rambler, the chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. “We’ve had dancers in that area forever — sunrise dancers — and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They’ll seal that off. They’ll seal us off from the acorn grounds, and the medicinal plants in the area, and our prayer areas.”

The mining project also threatens a spot known as Apache Leap. In 1870, a time of accelerated colonization in Arizona, settlers from Florence and troopers of the Arizona Volunteers Regiment drove Apache warriors to the edge of a cliff. Faced with defeat and capture, the warriors decided to leap over the thousand foot cliff to their deaths. According to legend, their widows were overcome by such grief that their tears turned to black, hardened stone — the obsidian gemstones commonly called “Apache Tears” that are found at the base of the mountain.

According to the proposal, mining would stop 1,500 feet short of Apache Leap and would not initially include Oak Flats. But it’s hard not to see the similarity to that tragic moment in 1870. Congress is driving the memories and culture of the Apaches to the edge of the cliff yet again.

Photo by arbyreed https://flic.kr/p/6H3k1z
Carved out copper mine in Bingham Canyon, Utah (Photo by arbyreed, Flickr)

What Congress Is Considering

Rio Tinto has pursued developing the mine for a decade claiming it will generate $61 billion in economic activity and 3,700 direct and indirect jobs over 40 years. Their proposal passed in the House of Representatives once in 2011, but when leaders brought it to the floor twice last year, it couldn’t get enough votes among both Democrats and Republicans. The proposal looked like a sweetheart deal and some were worried that the copper would go to China, which owns 10 percent of Rio Tinto. Others were also unhappy that Rio Tinto owns a uranium mine in Africa with Iran.

Now the proposal has been placed on page 1,105 of the much larger defense spending and public lands package, the “Carl Levin and Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015” (NDAA).

The NDAA represents a major compromise between conservation and development interests. On one hand, it designates nearly 250,000 acres of new wildnerss in a handful of Western states while preserving hundreds of thousands of additional acres from drilling and mining. On the other, it expidites oil, gas, and grazing permits, permits the copper mine on Apache land, and conveys tens of thousands of acres in the Tongass National Forest to Alaska-based Sealaska Corp., allowing the clearcutting of some old-growth trees.

The Act, which passed the House on Thursday, now heads to the Senate where it is expected to be considered this week before the end of the lame-duck session. Although the NDAA is one of the few pieces of legislation that has been renewed on time for the past 52 years, the public lands aspect of the bill is very controversial among senators. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the provisions an “extreme land grab” that would restrict more than half a million acres of land from productive use. And Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) offered an amendment to remove the copper mine deal from the defense bill, but the amendment lost in the House Rules Committee.

https://flic.kr/p/ocd4Cc
Image from page 162 of “On the trail of Geronimo : or, In the Apache country” (Internet Archive Book Imagery, Flickr)

Looking Off the Cliff

Rambler and his fellow opponents of the mine knew there was a possibility that Resolution Copper and its supporters would slip the deal into the NDAA, but aides and officials had declined to reveal it. Even Tuesday evening last week, when Republicans and Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee released summaries of the bill, the land deal was left out. This isn’t the first time a mining company has tried to impact sacred Native American lands. But now it’s as if Congress planned on ambushing the Apaches.

When asked in an interview about the deal, Rambler said, “the first thing I thought about was not really today, but 50 years from now, probably after my time, if this land exchange bill goes through, the effects that my children and children’s children will be dealing with.”

The benefits of the copper mine and the jobs all seem so short-term in this context. When a place has a centuries-old significance to your culture, why would the rocks underneath it matter at all? How many jobs is carving out pieces of the Grand Canyon worth? Should the rocks of Stonehenge be used for cement and gravel?

“It seems like us Apaches and other Indians care more about what this type of action does to the environment and the effects it leaves behind for us, while others tend to think more about today and the promise of jobs, but not necessarily what our creator God gave to us,” said Rambler.

Unfortunately, its not just Apaches and Indians who lose out with this deal. European-Americans can no longer look back at past events like the ambush of 1870, shake our heads, and say “well, things would be different now — today we have more respect for Native American culture.” The carelessness and short-sitedness of the NDAA’s provision only serves to reaffirm that we are still the same, immature, culture we were in 1870.

And that reaffirmation hurts the spirits of our children, and childrens’ children just as much as it does the Apaches.

News Source: Huffington Post

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .