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WASHINGTON— Tribal and congressional leaders joined the San Carlos Apache Tribe on Wednesday, April 26, in a prayer ceremony and press conference denouncing Arizona’s Resolution Copper Mine project. 

 The event, dubbed “Prayer to Save Oak Flat,” was hosted across the street from the White House in Lafayette Square Park. 

“The Biden Administration is poised to give sacred Apache land in eastern Arizona to foreign mining companies with close financial ties to the Chinese government to construct an unnecessary copper mine that will destroy Oak Flat,” said San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Terry Rambler in a statement. “Destroying Oak Flat would be a major human rights violation. Tribes across the country vehemently oppose this assault on tribal sovereignty and Native American religious freedom.”  

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Resolution Copper hopes to build a copper mine near a place the Apache and other tribes consider sacred, a ceremonial ground called Chí’chil Biłdagoteel, or “Oak Flat,” in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest. Because the mine is on federal lands, the permitting process is overseen by the U.S. Forest Service. Federal legislation was passed in 2014 that paved the way for a land swap between Resolution Copper and the U.S Forest Service, where Resolution Copper would exchange 5,429 acres of Arizona land it owns in exchange for 2,422 acres of federal land above a massive copper deposit. 

The value of the mine is estimated at $64 billion, with 1.787 billion metric tonnes of copper with an average grade of 1.5% copper over the next 60 years. The company says the mine’s life will provide thousands of direct and indirect jobs and will supply nearly 25% of the domestic demand for copper. 

In the final days of the Trump Administration, the U.S. Forest Service published the project's final environmental impact statement (FEIS) on January 15, 2021. However, president Biden halted the FEIS on March 1, 2021, saying the project needed more time to consult with Indian Tribes. 

 “We want the EIS redone because the EIS the Trump Administration rushed to publish didn’t have all the negative impacts the Tribe and other organizations came up with,” San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler told Native News Online. “It wasn’t fair the way they did.”

Rambler said the tribe and allies drafted a memorandum of understanding they wanted to enter with the USDA to ensure a fair consultation process. 

Because the MOU wasn’t signed, Rambler disagrees that consultation was officially done. As a result, The Apache Stronghold — a nonprofit advocacy group led by Rambler — filed a lawsuit on January 21, 2021, against the project.

In the lawsuit, the Apache Stronghold states, “the Apaches view Oak Flat as a ‘direct corridor’ to the Creator’s spirit.” They also argued that the land exchange violates their First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, where “government should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification.”  

The 9th Circuit Court decided in early 2022 that Resolution Copper could proceed with operations while the lawsuit is pending in court. Last November, the court announced that it would rehear Apache Stronghold v. United States “en banc” in front of a full panel of 11 judges. The court requested the en banc hearing to rehear the case, and is extremely rare, Apache Stronghold’s legal counsel Becket Law told Native News Online last fall. A call to rehear a case happens in less than 0.5 percent of cases the court hears.

Oak Flat is listed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property. It has been protected from mining by Congress for more than 60 years. Last week, leaders at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) acknowledged and called the Resolution Copper project a human rights violation and said the project will destroy an entire way of life for the Apache people.  

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., joined Apache leaders with other congressional representatives and Tribal leaders from Oklahoma and North Carolina, and the president of the Inter Tribal Association of Arizona. 

Together, they hope President Biden will stop the mine from proceeding.

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About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.