San Carlos Apache Leader Seeks Senate Defeat of Copper Mine on Sacred Land
Gale Courey Toensing, Indian Country
08 December 2014
The leader of the San Carlos Apache Tribe is asking the Senate not to vote on the annual National Defense Authorization Act until a provision that would allow a massive copper mining project on sacred land is removed.
The House approved a bill on 4 December that gives 2,400 acres of sacred Apache land to a giant international mining corporation, then sent it to the Senate for a fast vote in a process that won’t allow amendments to be made. The Senate is expected to act on it this week.
The land swap bill, called the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013 (H.R. 687), was attached as a rider to the annual must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) along with several other land-related bills.
If approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama, the land swap legislation will allow Resolution Copper Co., a subsidiary of the controversial international mining conglomerate Rio Tinto, to acquire 2,400 acres of the federally protected public land in the Tonto National Forest in southeast Arizona in exchange for 5,000 acres in parcels scattered around the state. Resolution Copper plans a massive deep underground copper mine using a technique called block caving in which a shaft is drilled more than a mile deep into the earth and the material is excavated without any reinforcement of the extraction area. Block caving leaves the land above vulnerable to collapse.
San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler is hoping—and praying—that won’t happen. He’s also organizing a publicity blitz and grassroots movement to stop the transfer of the land.
Is it possible?
“It may seem impossible but our elders have taught us not to lose faith in the power of prayer and of course prayer will be there to help guide us through, but as far as a strategy, we know it’s going to take a grassroots effort and a lot of awareness in the public eye to see our side of the story and that’s what we need to get out there,” Rambler told ICTMN.
As part of the effort, Rambler has launched a White House petition, called Stop the Apache Land Grab and urges people to sign on and spread the word. In addition, Rambler asks readers to call or email your senators and tell them to refuse to vote—or vote no—on the NDAA until the bill to destroy the Apache sacred site is removed. Contact information for senators is here.
The 2,400-acre land—part of San Carlos Apache’s aboriginal territory—is beautiful as well as sacred. It is a varied landscape of forests, streams, desert, grasslands, craggy mountains, and huge rock formations with ancient petroglyphs. It includes Oak Flats and nearby Apache Leap—a cliff from which Apaches jumped to their death to avoid being killed by settlers in the late 19th century—and Devil’s Canyon. The San Carlos Apaches and other Native people conduct ceremonies, gather acorns—their main food staple—and medicinal plants there. The now public land is held in trust by the federal government and is also used by non-Native nature lovers for hiking, camping, bird watching and rock climbing, and is used for field trips by Boy Scout groups.
The copper mine project is widely opposed. A broad coalition of southwestern tribal nations and Indian country in general, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, who say the mine will devastate the water that feeds the area’s aquifers, have thwarted Rio Tinto’s efforts to acquire the land over the past decade. Both the National Congress of American Indians and the United South and Eastern Tribes have passed resolutions opposing the land swap and mining proposal.
In May 2006, the San Carlos Apache council passed a resolution opposing the land swap on intertwined religious and environmental grounds, citing tribal, state and federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and Executive Order 13007—Protection of Indian Sacred Sites. But once the land is transferred into private hands these protective laws no longer apply.
The land swap proponents say the bill was amended to address these tribal concerns about sacred areas and the environment, but that’s not the case, Rambler said.
“Despite changes to require consultation with affected tribes and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance, the provision still mandates the transfer of tribal sacred areas into the private ownership of Resolution Copper regardless of the results of the consultation or information and recommendations resulting from the NEPA process,” Rambler said. “A mandatory conveyance defeats the purpose of tribal consultations and the NEPA process that are designed to help provide information before decisions are made. In [the land swap bill] the outcome is pre-determined, rendering tribal views and public comments meaningless. Further, [it] would not require Resolution Copper to mitigate impacts on tribal sacred areas after conveyance and contains no repercussions/penalties on Resolution Copper for harm/destruction to tribal sacred areas.”
The legislation is “business-as-usual,” ICTMN columnist Steve Newcomb commented. “This legislation, with its Orwellian title, demonstrates perfectly the United States` lack of sincerity when it comes to `implementing` the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and when it comes to protecting the sacred and culturally sensitive places of our original nations,” Newcomb said. “It`s business-as-usual for the United States when it comes to corporatizing such sensitive areas on behalf of foreign corporations such as Rio Tinto. Clearly, this is but one more example of the impact of the doctrine of Christian discovery and domination.”
The Obama administration, however, does not support the land swap or copper mine. On Saturday (December 6) Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell criticized the last minute addition of the land swap bill and other legislation that would create six new national parks and 14 National Heritage Areas to the NDAA, the Washington Post reported.
Of the Tonto National Forest land swap, Jewell said, “I think that is profoundly disappointing.” She said she was happy to see the other land bills make progress, but “The preference on public lands bills is that they go through a typical process of public lands bills and they get debate and discussion.”
Rambler said the land swap bill was added to the must pass NDAA because it would never pass otherwise. “Because of all the years of education we’ve been doing we gained a lot of support and convinced enough Republicans that this is a bad deal for Apaches, Arizona and America. The bill wouldn’t pass if it were to go through the regular process of discussion and debate.”
Sen. Jon McCain (R-AZ) has been the lead supporter over the years of Rio Tinto’s efforts to acquire the land. McCain was instrumental in attaching the land swap bill into the NDAA at the last minute, according to the Huffington Post.
The giant mining company and its subsidiary have spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress and making donations to legislators including McCain, according to the Federal Elections Commission, and Open Secrets.
The fact that Rio Tinto is followed by a trail of controversy apparently does not concern the copper mine’s supporters. Earlier this year, protesters and unions from around the world heavily criticized the mining behemoth over alleged lapses in safety leading to the deaths of 41 people and a string of claimed environmental abuses, the Guardian reported. Native Papuan people and others protesting against the deaths of 33 people who perished when a tunnel collapsed in a gold mine in Indonesia complained of Rio Tinto’s alleged human rights and environmental abuses in Madagascar, Australia, Namibia and the U.S.
Rambler said he hopes the Senate will have “the sense” to reject the NDAA until the land swap bill is removed. “This land is where we go to pray, it’s where we have our sunrise ceremony, our coming of age ceremony. It’s where we get our food and where the Creator God put our water resources and there’s going to be a hole there over an area of two miles in circumference,” Rambler said. “And that’s what we’ll leave our children—not just Apache children but all the children of the white people, the Mexicans, the African Americans who live there. That’s what we’ll leave all our children.”
If the Senate passes the bill, Rambler said he hopes Obama will have “the courage” to veto it. “I would like him to have the confidence to know that if he does veto it that it won’t be overridden.” It would take 67 votes in the Senate and a two-thirds majority of the House to veto-proof the bill.
But the San Carlos Apaches’ struggle won’t end until the sacred land is protected, Rambler said. “Even if this passes we’re still going to fight it any way that we can,” he said.
Congress Raids Ancestral Native American Lands with Defense Bill
Michael McAuliff, The Huffington Post
03 December 2014
WASHINGTON—When Terry Rambler, the chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, woke up Wednesday in Washington DC, it was to learn that Congress was deciding to give away a large part of his ancestral homeland to a foreign mining company.
Rambler came to the nation’s capital for the White House Tribal Nations Conference, an event described in a press announcement as an opportunity to engage the president, cabinet officials and the White House Council on Native American Affairs “on key issues facing tribes including respecting tribal sovereignty and upholding treaty and trust responsibilities,” among other things.
Rambler felt things got off to an unfortunate, if familiar, start when he learned that the House and Senate Armed Services Committee had decided to use the lame-duck session of Congress and the National Defense Authorization Act to give 2,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona to a subsidiary of the Australian-English mining giant Rio Tinto.
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“Of all people, Apaches and Indians should understand, because we’ve gone though this so many times in our history,” Rambler said.
Rambler knew there was a possibility that supporters of the move—which failed twice on the House floor last year—would slip the deal into the must-pass legislation, but aides and officials involved had declined to reveal it. Even Tuesday evening, when Republicans and Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee released summaries of the bill, the land deal was left out.
Rambler and other opponents couldn’t find out until late Tuesday night when the bill, named the “Carl Levin and Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015” (after the retiring Senate and House committee chairmen), was finally posted online. The news that Apache burial, medicinal and ceremonial grounds would be given to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, was on page 1,105.
“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,” Rambler said in an interview.
The land includes territory where Apaches gather medicinal plants and acorns--a food source that Rambler said has sustained his people for as long as they know. It also surrounds the Apache Leap, a summit from which trapped Apaches once jumped to their deaths rather than be killed by settlers in the late 1800s.
“Since time immemorial people have gone there. That’s part of our ancestral homeland, Rambler said, referring to the overall area in question. 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.”
There are supposed to be two areas excluded from mining, including Apache Leap, but the bill specifies Resolution Copper can get permission in just 30 or 90 days to drill among the oaks.
Rio Tinto has pursued the deal for a decade, and it was apparently pushed into the NDAA largely thanks to Sen. John McCain (R-AR). It passed the House once in 2011, but when leaders brought it to the floor twice last year, they couldn’t find enough votes, and pulled it. Most Democrats opposed it and growing numbers of Republicans were concerned about how it was being conducted. To many, it looked like a sweetheart deal being made outside of the regular process of dealing with federal land. And some were unhappy that the prime beneficiary, Rio Tinto, also owns a uranium mine in Africa with Iran. Others worried that most of the copper will go to China, which owns 10 percent of Rio Tinto.
The argument for the land swap—the government will acquire other lands in exchange—is economic development and jobs. The company claims it will generate $61 billion in economic activity and 3,700 direct and indirect jobs over 40 years.
Opponents dispute those numbers, but Rambler is not sure they matter, even if they are accurate.
“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,” he said.
He is particularly worried about the long-term impact. The company intends to use a variety of “block cave” mining that digs underneath the ore and causes it to collapse from its own weight. Resolution Copper describes the process in a video: The land above such mines eventually cracks and subsides.
“What those mountains mean to us is that when the rain and the snow comes, it distributes it to us,” Rambler said. “It replenishes our aquifers to give us life.” He’s not sure how that will happen once the land starts subsiding. Resolution Copper promises to monitor it.
In comments to The Huffington Post on Tuesday, spokespeople for the mine said that it had filed an operating plan with the federal Forest Service and was starting a review under the National Environmental Policy Act, which is supposed to ensure that federal lands are protected.
But Rambler found little assurance in that, since NEPA only applies while the land belongs to the federal government.
“This is what will happen—the law in one area says there will be consultation, but the law in another area of the bill says the land exchange will happen within one year of enactment of this bill,” Rambler noted, correctly. “So no matter what we’re doing within that one year, the consultation part won’t mean anything after one year. Because then it’s really theirs after that.”
Two properties within the land would remain in the hands of the federal government, one around the Apache Leap and one an area called Oak Flats. Outside of those places, the federal government would have no say under NEPA, an official with the Bureau of Land Management said.
“We would only have to do NEPA on any activity that would take place on remaining federal land,” said Arizona BLM official Carrie Templin. The company promises to stop 1,500 feet short of Apache Leap, but reserves the right to drill in Oak Flats.
The Arizona exchange is not the only land measure in the defense bill.
In fact, there are dozens of other land-related items, including at least one more that is angering Native Americans. A transfer of 1,600 acres from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State for industrial development has also sparked protest by tribes, who note that the area also contains lands important to them, and which are already undergoing various federal evaluations that would be short-circuited by the legislation.
Still another deal would benefit a Native American corporation in Alaska called Sealaska. It is opposed by environmental groups, though, because it would open some 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to logging.
Environmental groups approve of some of the deals in the bill, but those have been attracting anger on the right. Two leaders of the Heritage Foundation campaign arm described them in an op-ed as a land grab that had no place in a defense bill. Another, Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment, also slammed it in a statement.
“The federal lands package added to the National Defense Authorization Act is a backroom deal that would lock up use of hundreds of thousands of acres of land,” said Ebell, although it is likely he would favor the part of the Rio Tinto deal that allows mining since he favors using federal land for resources. “Many of these federal land lockups could never be enacted on their own if debated and voted in the light of day.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) also doesn`t think the land bills belong in the defense measure, and has vowed to stall the bill as long as possible until they are removed.
The bill is expected to be voted on in the House as soon as this week, and sent to the Senate in a manner that does not allow it to be amended. If anything is to change in the bill, it would have to happen before then, and House leaders would have to agree to allow amendment votes.
UPDATE: 11:15 pm—Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) tried Wednesday night to offer an amendment to remove the Resolution Copper deal from the defense bill, but lost in the House Rules Committee on a 6–4 vote, with three Democrats supporting him, and his GOP colleagues voting against him. The Rules Committee determines how measures will be considered on the floor. It decided to give the NDAA one hour of debate, with no vote on Cole`s amendment.
Original article with video
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post.
Photo on front page: Moon over Apache Leap, Arizona. Photo: hikearizona.com. Photo on this page: Morenci Copper Mine near Clifton, Arizona. Source: http://www.colindaylinks.com/arizona/morenci1.html.