As one of its last acts, the Trump administration has set out to convert sacred Native American lands into a couple of Anglo-Australian mining companies.
The 2,422-acre Arizona parcel known as the Oak Flat is of great importance to Western Apache, and is now on the verge of extinction as it is considered one of the largest copper mining operations in the United States.
When the final environmental assessment was released, proceedings for the controversial land transfer to the miners from the U.S. government, which owns the land, were completed Friday morning. The government should soon transfer the title to the land.
Native Americans in the region have compared this to historical attacks on their aborigines. “What was once gun and disease has now been replaced by bureaucratic negligence,” said Wendzler Nosi, from Jeronimo, founder of the activist organization Apache Strongold and a member of the Apache group. “Indigenous people are considered invisible or gone. We are not. We don’t want to be pushed anymore. “
The move comes after management expedited the environmental approval process for the relocation for a full year. During a meeting with environmental groups, regional forest service officials attributed the deadline to the US Department of Agriculture’s call for “pressure from the highest levels,” but the government said the work was completed sooner than expected.
Land Acquisition Resolution A company called Copper, which was formed by miners Rio Tinto and PHP Billiton.
“The Forest Service is clearly crossing the burning rings to do this for Rio Tinto before Trump leaves office,” said Randy Ceraglio, a defense attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. He called it “the betrayal of the natives who revered the land as sacred.”
Last May, Rio Tinto exploded a sacred aboriginal site in Johannesburg, Western Australia. Widespread public outcry and investor revolt over the devastation prompted Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson to vow never to “destroy” sites of exceptional archaeological and cultural significance “again” during mining operations.
The National Register of Oak Flat Historic Sites, also known as the Chichel Bildtcottil in Apache, lists at least a dozen Southwest Native Americans for its spiritual and cultural significance. It contains hundreds of indigenous archaeological sites dating back 1,500 years and is a place where the Apache tribes have held festivals for centuries.
Thousands of feet below the oak flat is a copper deposit that is one of the largest in the world and is worth more than b 1 billion. If mine goes ahead as planned, it will consume 11 square miles, including Apache pits, shrines, petroglyphs and medicinal plants.
Unbeknownst to tribal and environmental groups that have long opposed the Oak Flat mine, the land transfer was passed by Congress and signed by Barack Obama in December 2014, the last-minute ride of the Department of Defense spending bill.
The law requires that oak flat resolution be granted to copper in exchange for 5,736 acres of privately owned land throughout Arizona that are desirable for recreation or protection. In conducting its environmental review, the Forest Service acknowledged that mine would destroy sacred sites for Native Americans, but said the loss was an inevitable consequence of the land transfer order.
The San Carlos Apache tribe filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, accusing the Forest Service of violating the National Historic Conservation Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the 1852 Convention by advancing with the land transfer. Between the United States and the Western Apache tribe.
The judge on Friday rejected a request to delay the release of the environmental assessment and ruled that the relocation could take place within 55 days.
In a separate action this week, Apache Stronghold filed a claim on Oak Flat claiming that the land belonged to Apache under the 1852 agreement – under which Oak Flat was considered part of the Apache homeland – and the Forest Service had no legal title to the property.
Arizona Representative Raul Krizalwa and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders also plan to introduce the Save Oak Flat Act in Congress to repeal the land transfer.
Indigenous and environmental groups believe the oak flat can still be preserved. “There are a lot of things that incoming Python management can do to prevent this,” said Ceraglio of the Center for Biodiversity.
Even though the Oak Flat resolution ended up in Copper’s hands through a title exchange, “there is no guarantee that they can get any other federal permission to actually do mine”.