A rather remote area 70 miles east of Phoenix is the site of a major battle between a copper mining conglomerate and Native Americans. It was a major topic at the annual Convergence Conference held at Arcosanti, 60 miles north of Phoenix.
The area is called Oak Flat, located in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, also the site of traditional Apache land. Threatening this land is Resolution Copper, which has already spent $1.3 billion into planning operations for the proposed mine, which remains at least a decade away from extracting copper from deep within the earth. If the Apache Tribe and other native American tribes have their way, the mine will never be completed.
A proclamation signed by San Carlos Apace Tribe chairman Terry Rambler states “We must remind the world that Resolution Copper represents a dark and pernicious force of foreign interests. No matter what they say they cannot justify the spiritual and environmental harm the mine will have.” The proclamation is being supported by several other tribes including the Navajo, as well as religious leaders across the country.
This viewpoint was made forcefully to those attending the Convergence Conference by Apache tribe member Vanessa Nosey. “Would they put a copper mine on a church?” she asked. “There is a genocide against our religion. Our people have been treated by the government like dust and swept under the carpet.”
Nosey urges people to get engaged with their elected representatives to stop the mine. “I have three girls: my daughters are directly involved in protecting the world and to protect the water for their future children. It’s important to bridge the gap between the elders and the youth because someday as one of my daughters said ‘if the fight is not going to stop I’m going to pick it up.’ Go to the Apache stronghold website, reach out to your Congress because the actuality is the government isn’t going to change – they’re not going to go away. As we come together as a people to make a strong voice then we can have Congressional decisions made in our favour. Right now Oak Flat is in the process, there is a draft environmental impact statement and when you read it, it is incomplete.”
As she mentioned the environmental impact of the mine would be felt most strongly underground, in the water. The Environmental Protection Agency agreed with that in a 2012 statement, saying the “proposed project will result in significant degradation to waters.” Nosey said at Arcosanti that “Our water is going to be destroyed unless they use the correct numbers of what water is going to be used and how much is going to be contaminated. The towns nearby are going to be extremely affected.”
She has hopes that a recently announced public hearing in Tempe will be a way to “open up people’s hearts and their spirits. We are all placed here for a reason. I am only a messenger, I am only here to give whatever message Creator has sent through me to give. We have to walk that life and it isn’t easy. It’s easy to show up but its hard to do the work, and it is hard because it’s life changing when you have society always at your front door expecting you to live a certain way. It’s having to take yourself out of the box and make an actual decision because we can’t leave the world in the state that it’s in for our future kids.”
To get involved in this important debate, visit the website www.apache-stronghold.com.
To find your legislator’s contact information, call 202-224-3121
Tell your legislator that you support bills introduced in the US House of Representatives by Raul Grijalva (HR 665) and in the Senate by Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (S 173) to repeal the provision that gave away Oak Flat.
“Too many times our Native American brothers and sisters have seen the profits of huge corporations put ahead of their sovereign rights,” Sanders said on January 17 this year. “It is wrong that a backroom deal in Washington could lead to the destruction of a sacred area that is so important to so many. We must defend the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are standing in opposition to this giveaway of our natural resources to foreign corporations.”
“I stand with Native communities and everyone fighting to protect Oak Flat’s sacred land and natural resources,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who cosponsors Sen. Sanders’ bill. “The Save Oak Flat Act will undo this destructive land swap, respect tribal rights, and help preserve Oak Flat for future generations.”
The House version is available online at http://naturalresources.house.gov/legislation/bills/save-oak-flat-act-
Photo by C Cunningham