US Senators Bernie Sanders & Tammy Baldwin Introduce Save Oak Flat Act

Terry Rambler, Chairman, San Carlos Apache Tribe, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and Naelyn Pike, youth member of Apache Stronghold

Terry Rambler, Chairman, San Carlos Apache Tribe, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and Naelyn Pike, youth member of Apache Stronghold

Published November 14, 2015

SAN CARLOS, ARIZONA – San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman praised last week’s introduction of the Save Oak Flat Act, S. 2242, in the Senate by Senators Bernie Sanders (VT) and Tammy Baldwin (WI). “I applaud Senator Sanders and Senator Baldwin for introducing the Save Oak Flat Act in the Senate and for taking a stand in support of Indian country.  The Save Oak Flat Act will not only correct an injustice against the Apache and other Native Americans but also against the American people.”

The Save Oak Flat Act would repeal Section 3003, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Act, of the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would transfer Oak Flat, a sacred area of Apaches and other Native Americans located in the Tonto National Forest, to a private foreign-owned mining company resulting in the destruction of this sacred area.  The Save Oak Flat Act would immediately halt this transfer and restore the federal protections for this sacred area.

Chairman Rambler went on to discuss the importance of Oak Flat to the Apache people.

“Oak Flat is a holy site and an area of irreplaceable beauty.  Apache people have lived, prayed, and died in the Oak Flat area since the time our Creator placed us here.  The Oak Flat area contains many places that must remain intact for Apaches to receive healing and balance.  We are tied to the land and bound to protect it.”

Tribal governments, tribal organizations, and many other local and national organizations throughout the country opposed efforts to pass the Land Exchange last Congress because of the importance of protecting sacred places such as Oak Flat.  Although the bill could not pass the House or Senate, the Land Exchange was attached as a rider to the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act.

The Land Exchange mandates the transfer of approximately 2400 acres in the Tonto National Forest, including Oak Flat, to Resolution Copper Mining, a subsidiary of the foreign mining companies Rio Tinto PLC (United Kingdom) and BHP Billiton Ltd (Australia), to conduct a large scale copper mine that will result in the collapse of the surface of the land and the destruction of Oak Flat.

In addition to the destruction of this place of worship, the Land Exchange may significantly threaten the water quality and water supply of the region.  The Tonto National Forest was established in 1905 principally to protect the region’s watershed. However, the Land Exchange will effectively eliminate these protections.  Under current plans, the mining operation will require an unsustainable amount of water to operate and leave behind contaminated water affecting the Tribe and local communities for generations to come.

In June, Rep. Raul Grijalva introduced the House companion bill, H.R. 2811.  Currently, there are 36 bipartisan cosponsors of the legislation.

In closing, Chairman Terry Rambler stated:

“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 for future generations, 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 Senators to support the Save Oak Flat Act and work to move this bill to final passage.”

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