- By Native News Online Staff
Members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, along with high school students, protested outside U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly’s office in Phoenix, Ariz. last Thursday, urging the Arizona Democrat to support legislation protecting, Oak Flat, a sacred site threatened by a proposed copper mine near Superior.
The crowd of about 20 demonstrators carried signs that read, “Save Oak Flat” and “Senator Mark Kelly – Protect Our Religion.”
Protesters want Kelly to support the Save Oak Flat Act, sponsored in the Senate by Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and in the House by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). Neither bill has moved forward since the spring.
The bill aims to protect Oak Flat – considered sacred by Apache and other Indigenous people – from a vast copper mine proposed in the Tonto National Forest about 60 miles east of Phoenix. Mining could lead the land to collapse and leave behind a 2-mile crater.
Kelly’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Oak Flat, known to the Apache as Chi’Chil’Ba’Goteel, was federally protected until it became part of a land swap approved in a federal defense bill, slipped in by then U.S. Sen. John McCain, in December 2014. Under the deal, the federal government agreed to exchange public land that included Oak Flat to Resolution Copper, a joint venture by Rio Tinto on BHP.
The land holds religious and cultural significance to Indigenous communities, especially the San Carlos Apache, who still hold ceremonies on the land.
Brophy High School senior Aidan Parr, 18, said destroying the land is a cultural attack on the Native American community.
“If there was a huge copper deposit discovered under St. Peter’s Basilica, no one would be like, ‘Let’s mine it even if it destroys the church,’” he said.
Sandra Rambler, a San Carlos Apache, said her ancestors were buried on Oak Flat ground, so she feels strongly about keeping the land sacred and free from mining.
“Leave them alone, leave our way of life alone,” she said.
The bill follows years of uncertainty regarding the status of the land. Arguments in a lawsuit filed in January by the nonprofit Apache Stronghold were made before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in October.
A ruling is expected next year. The group’s website says its mission is “to battle continued colonization, defend holy sites and freedom of religion.”
Check out my latest video about sacred Apache lands in Arizona. I've tried to show what's at stake if a proposed copper mine is built on a high desert mesa called Oak Flat. Call your Congress people! #Apache #PublicLands pic.twitter.com/omY3PSmse8— Elias Butler (@EliasButlerAZ) December 5, 2021
More Stories Like ThisWomen of Indian Country Respond to the Overturning of Roe v. Wade
Native News Weekly (June 26, 2022): D.C. Briefs
Native Bidaské with Connie Johnson, Candidate in Oklahoma's Gubernatorial Primary
President Biden Signs New Gun Law Aimed to Keep Guns Away from Dangerous People
Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade, Indian Country Responds
Do you appreciate a Native perspective on the news?
For the past decade-plus, we’ve covered the important Indigenous stories that are often overlooked by other media. From the protests at Standing Rock and the toppling of colonizer statues during the racial equity protests, to the ongoing epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) and the past-due reckoning related to assimilation, cultural genocide and Indian Boarding Schools, we have been there to provide a Native perspective and elevate Native voices.
Our news is free for everyone to read, but it is not free to produce. That’s why we’re asking you to make a donation this month to help support our efforts. Any contribution — big or small — helps us remain a force for change in Indian Country and continue telling the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked. Most often, our donors make a one-time gift of $20 or more, while many choose to make a recurring monthly donation of $5 or $10. Whatever you can do, it helps fund our Indigenous-led newsroom and our ability to cover Native news.
Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.