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Final stand seek to save the Apache's land in Arizona desert



1. Arizona land exchange

OAK FLAT, Arizona - In November 2019, Wendsler Nosie Sr. sent a letter informing the U.S.

Forest Service of his plans to "go home" to Oak Flat, a high oasis in the desert of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona that the Apache people hold sacred.

Arizona land exchange

Instead, the former president of the San Carlos Apache tribe would establish a permanent residence… there in a spiritual quest to protect the holy place from "murder" by foreign mining companies.

A few days later, Nosie ran about 40 miles from the San Carlos Apache Indian reservation in Oak Flat, taking with him a stick decorated with eagle feathers.

The U.S. Forest Service is expected to release a final environmental review of the proposed mine - months ahead of its previous schedule and five days before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.

This decision would trigger a 60-day delay for the government to complete the land exchange.

Once the deal is finalized, Nosie expects he will be forced to leave his Oak Flat camp.

On Tuesday, Apache Stronghold, a nonprofit tribal advocacy organization, filed a lawsuit to prevent the Forest Service from issuing the statement;

Arguing that the land swap violates Apache tribal religious freedom and due process rights.

Nosie, the group's founder, said he had done everything possible to fight the powerful forces defending the giant mine.

"I pray the country to wake up, because once the water is contaminated and gone ..." he paused, breathing a deep sigh;

 "We are contemplating a disaster for our children and grandchildren who are still being born. They will suffer the consequences.

2. The first Biden attitude

Biden has not publicly addressed Arizona's controversial project.

The incoming administration is already under pressure to block the land swap, if it were to be finalized before its January 20 inauguration.. by quickly canceling the Trump administration's final environmental review.

In plans released during the election campaign, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris promised to reverse the Trump administration's retreat.

From many protected sites and to give tribes a greater role in the management of public lands.

For generations, the Apache people have held religious and cultural ceremonies in Oak Flat, known as Chi'chil Bildagoteel in their native language.

The area northeast of Phoenix is home to burial sites and ancient petroglyphs.

To this day, the Apache return to Oak Flat to pray, hold sunrise dance ceremonies for young women and gather medicinal plants and acorns from old emerald oaks.

Its inscription on the National Register of Historic Places indicates that "historical documentation, Apache oral history and archaeological sites.

Clearly show that Chi'chil Bildagoteel is an important feature of the Western Apache landscape as a sacred site, a source of supernatural power… and a basic element of their traditional way of life.

The Resolution Copper Mine would erase most of Oak Flat from the map.

Using an underground mining technique called panel spelunking, the company plans to mine some 40 billion pounds of copper.. worth more than $100 billion, supplying up to a quarter of U.S. copper demand over the life of the mine.

Over time, however, the vast underground operation will collapse in on itself, engulfing this historic native cultural site in a crater 2 miles wide and 1,000 feet deep.

3. U.S. government promise

In 1955, the U.S. government that led the Apache people off their ancestral lands and into reserves made a new promise, declaring a 760-acre section of Oak Flat closed to mining.

But that pledge began to crumble in 1995 with the discovery of the vast Resolution copper deposit.

Rio Tinto and BHP would spend most of the next two decades exploring the site and lobbying Congress to lift the mining ban at Oak Flat.

Several bills have been introduced, but all have failed.

Nosie rebuilds his camp at Oak Flat on January 9.

In anticipation of the Trump administration finalizing a land exchange with Resolution Copper., Apache Stronghold moved his camp of occupation deeper into the Emery oak grove.

Then in 2014, Arizona's two then Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake engineered a workaround.. slipping a last-minute provision into the 2014 military spending bill.

That authorized the transfer of Oak Flat and its environs to Resolution Copper in exchange for 5,300 acres that Resolution owned scattered across Arizona.

McCain - who in 2014 received $7,500 in contributions to the Rio Tinto campaign, more than any other congressman – argued..

At the time that the land swaps was a bipartisan "compromise" that copper was necessary to "maintain the strength of the world's most technologically advanced military," …

And that Apache tribal leaders "declared Oak Flat campground not a sacred site.

The San Carlos Apaches oppose the Resolution Copper project on religious grounds.

But Nosie stresses that everyone should be concerned about the potential environmental impacts and the precedent that the mining agreement would set for the privatization of culturally rich federal lands.

4. Copper mine: project fear

The tribe has found many allies. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced … companion bills in 2019 to cancel the Oak Flat land swap.

 And many environmental groups have lent their support.

"They've led a very concerted and courageous fight to stop this," said Randy Serraglio., a conservation advocate at the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity. "

The conservation group promises to attack the Trump administration's decision with all the tools at its disposal., and Serraglio said there is no doubt that litigation will show that the final environmental review is flawed.

Nosie's camp at Oak Flat on January 9th. Later in the day, he and other members of Apache Stronghold moved the camp deeper into the Emery oak grove.

Opponents of the project fear that the Resolution copper mine is a repeat of recent environmental damage by Rio Tinto in Western Australia.

Last year, the company destroyed old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge while expanding an iron ore mine.

 The 46,000-year-old caves were sacred to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura indigenous peoples.


It was only after outrage over investor pressure on Rio Tinto that its CEO and two other company executives resigned.

Company president Simon Thompson issued a statement saying the company was "determined to ensure that the destruction of a heritage site., of such exceptional archaeological and cultural significance will never again occur in a Rio Tinto operation".

Yet he continues his solid copper project in Oak Flat.

Resolution Copper said it was "committed to preserving Native American cultural heritage" in the area and promised., that its operation will not damage Apache Leap.

But the draft Environmental Impact Statement the Forest Service released in August 2019 clearly states that the mine and land exchange.,

"has a very high potential to directly, negatively and permanently affect many cultural artifacts, sacred seeps and springs, traditional ceremonial areas, traditional ceremonial areas, resource … gathering communities, burial sites and other places and experiences of great spiritual and other value to tribal members.

5. Now, Biden Rescinds Trump Decision

An independent analysis concluded that there is a 9% chance that the mine will cause destabilization and collapse of the Apache Leap cliffs, The Guardian reported in November.

Other major concerns include adverse effects on species at risk, including ocelot, and the potential for groundwater contamination.

It may have been former Arizona GOP senators who slipped the Oak Flat land swap into an independent military spending bill., but it was the Trump administration that worked to make the mine a reality.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross met with Rio Tinto executives at least three times… according to schedules obtained by the New York Times.

He visited the site of mine in early October.

"The United States particularly appreciates global companies like Rio Tinto that choose to engage in projects like this on our shores…"

Ross told the event, applauding President Donald Trump's "pro-growth policies.

At a meeting with community leaders late last year, Forest Service officials revealed they were "under pressure from the highest level… of the Department of Agriculture" to speed up the environmental review, The Guardian reported in November.

The Forest Service told that it was not commenting on the ongoing litigation. Resolution Copper insists., that the permitting process has not been expedited, but rather is "behind schedule. »

If Trump's team cements the land swap before Biden takes office… It will be a fitting coda to his legacy of emptying the protections of wilderness and culturally important places and undermining tribal sovereignty.

In Utah, he dismantled the Bears Ears National Monument, a 1.35 million-acre landscape.

That houses thousands of Native American archaeological sites and is the only monument honoring tribal cultural heritage.

In Alaska, he ran to sell oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Which the native Gwich'in of northern Alaska and Canada call "the sacred place where life begins.

Six weeks after these facts and  issued an environmental impact statement green lighting the project on land known as Oak Flat in January.

Biden Rescinds Trump Decision to Turn Arizona Land Into a Copper Mine on Monday04/3/2021 . 

The move reflects the change of sea between the Biden and Trump administrations’ approaches to land, extraction, and Indigenous rights.



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