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“Save Oak Flat Act” will Reverse Backroom Deal that Threatens Apache Religion and Sacred Areas

On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, Rep. Raul Grijalva with 14 bipartisan co-sponsors introduced the “Save Oak Flat Act”.  The bill would repeal Section 3003 of the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which approved the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange (“the Land Exchange”). 

Chairman Terry Rambler praised the bill’s introduction.  Rambler stated, “I applaud Congressman Grijalva and the co-sponsors of the Save Oak Flat Act.  They are true champions of Indian Country and justice for the American taxpayer.  The Save Oak Flat Act directly responds to the deception that was used to approve the Land Exchange through an eleventh hour rider.  That process directly ignored the will of the people and exemplifies everything wrong with Congress.

The 14 bipartisan co-sponsors of the Save Oak Flat Act include Reps. Tom Cole (Chickasaw Nation) (R-OK) (Co-Chair of the House Native American Caucus (HNAC)), Betty McCollum (D-MN) (HNAC Co-Chair), Markwayne Mullin (Cherokee Nation) (R-OK), Walter Jones (R-NC), Norma Torres (D-CA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Raul Ruiz (D-CA), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Xavier Becerra (D-CA). 

Hundreds of tribal governments, tribal organizations, and others joined the San Carlos Apache Tribe in fighting the Land Exchange before Congress.  Because of this opposition, House of Representatives Leadership twice pulled the bill from consideration because it lacked the votes for passage during the 113th Congress.  The Senate also refused to move the bill forward. 

To circumvent and silence this opposition, Arizona Senator John McCain and Reps. Paul Gosar and Ann Kirkpatrick forced a closed-door deal to include the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange as a midnight rider into the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act. 

The Land Exchange authorizes the transfer of Oak Flat and nearby lands in the Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper Mining, which is owned by the foreign mining giants Rio Tinto PLC (United Kingdom) and BHP Billiton Ltd (Australia) for certain destruction.  These Forest Service lands are sacred grounds to the San Carlos Apache Tribe and other tribes in the region. 

Upon introduction of the Save Oak Flat Act, Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva also expressed his disdain with the deceptive process that led to the Land Exchange. “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.”

Rambler went on to discuss the importance of Oak Flat and the surrounding area to the Apache people.  “Oak Flat is a holy site and an area of irreplaceable beauty.  Our Elders teach us that the strength of our prayers and ceremonies depend on the land’s health, and our ability to treat everything with respect.  We have always lived by these prayers.  To this day our lives depend on them.  Apache people have lived, prayed, and died in the Oak Flat Area since time immemorial.” 

Resolution Copper has chosen to mine the copper using the highly destructive block cave mining technique. Chairman Rambler noted, “By Resolution Copper’s own admission, this will result in collapsing the surface of the land, destroying forever our place of worship.”

The Tribe and nearby communities are also concerned with possible damage to the region’s water quality and water supply.  Copper is one of the most water-intensive forms of mining.  The block cave mining technique further intensifies the need for water.  Chairman Rambler acknowledged that, “The U.S. established the Tonto National Forest in 1904 to protect the region’s watershed.  This protection will also turn to dust with the Land Exchange.

The Tribe and others dispute that the mine will create 4,000 jobs.  According to an economic study performed by Power Consulting, Inc., between 1974 and 1997, copper production in Arizona rose by 73%, but the workforce was cut by 56%.  Resolution Copper’s study analyzed the economic benefits statewide and not locally.  The Powers study analyzed the economic benefits locally (within the copper triangle), and using the same economic model Resolution Copper used, found that only 342 direct mining jobs will be created locally.

In closing, Chairman Terry Rambler issued the following statement:

By repealing the midnight approval of the Land Exchange, the Save Oak Flat Act will protect Native American religions and our sacred grounds, it will preserve clean drinking water for our region, and it will defend the voice of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who stood in opposition to this give away of American resources.  I urge all Members of Congress to support the Save Oak Flat Act and work to move this bill to final passage.”

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3/11/2016

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3/5/2016

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3/3/2016

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7/24/2015

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7/23/2015

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7/22/2015

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7/21/2015

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7/20/2015

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7/19/2015

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7/17/2015

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7/8/2015

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7/7/2015

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7/5/2015

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6/29/2015

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6/19/2015

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6/17/2015

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