Oak Flat: The Latest Land Grab From Native Americans

Dave Johnson

A “sneak law” attachment to a “must-pass” bill gives sacred Native American land to a foreign mining company. How did this happen?

Do you remember that “Citibank budget,” where a budget bill to avert an imminent government shutdown suddenly had in it a Citibank-written provision deregulating certain risky financial trades? If Congress voted against the budget, the government would shut down, so Citibank got its way? This is how “sneak laws” get through. Usually We the People don’t get a chance to learn about them in time to do something about it, and this was one example.

Another example of this happened in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015. On page 1,103 of the 1,648-page bill is a provision giving more than 2400 acres of land in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper, which is part of London-based Rio Tinto and Melbourn-based BHP Billiton, giant mining companies. This was done by Arizona Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake and Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar.

The area is known as Oak Flat and is land that is sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Yavapai-Apache Nation. They compare it to the sacredness of Mt. Sinai in other religions. In 1886, the federal government removed the tribes and expropriated the land.

Sacred Land Given To A Foreign Corporation In A Sneak Law

America of course has a long and disgraceful history of stealing land from Native Americans – to say the least. But this is the first time that sacred Native American land has been stolen to give to a foreign corporation.

However, this land transfer is unusual even before you consider that the beneficiary is a foreign corporation. This land has been given special protection since at least 1955. Even President Richard Nixon protected it, which is saying something. Five times Arizona Republicans have tried and failed to give this land to this company. Only by sneaking it into this must-pass bill did they succeed.

A New York Times op-ed calls the Oak Flat Apache land grab “an impressive new low in congressional corruption” and points out that:

It belongs to the public, under the multiple-use mandate of the Forest Service, and has had special protections since 1955, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower decreed the area closed to mining — which, like cattle grazing, is otherwise common in national forests — because of its cultural and natural value. President Richard M. Nixon’s Interior Department in 1971 renewed this ban.

Yes, this is “an impressive new low in congressional corruption.”

This Doesn’t Just Grab The Sacred Land, It Destroys It

The method of mining “block cave mining” that is proposed is going to, by design, completely devastate the land. In Truthout’s “The Apache Way: The March to Oak Flat,” Roger Hill explains:

This process involves a series of deep underground detonations, essentially collapsing the mountainous terrain in on itself and extracting the ore and materials from a series of tunnels dug in the earth. This process creates more toxic material than traditional surface mining and produces greater contaminants affecting the groundwater with acid runoff.

Of course neighboring towns are dependent on that groundwater.

This method will leave behind a “7,000-acre, 500-foot-high waste dump of toxic tailings.” Later the cave will collapse, leaving behind destruction the size of five Empire State Buildings.

Fighting Back

Leading the fight to stop this are Native Americans themselves. The Apaches are not asking that the land be returned to them, only that it not be mined.

Apaches have begun an occupation of the disputed land. (After a special ceremony in August that is only open to Apaches, you can come and help occupy Oak Flat. Do not bring weapons; Apaches are not deadbeat Tea Party ranchers.)

In June Apaches marched on Washington. Lee Allen at Indian Country News has the story, “Oak Flat Protesters Plan March on Washington to Protest Apache Land Grab“:

“Today we are announcing the next step in our battle for repeal, and that’s a march on Washington,” Nosie said. “Alliances with other tribes, universities, religious groups and outraged citizens continue to grow in groundswell proportion—our support numbers have just gone crazy. The month of June will be a month of protest in the streets and in congressional offices. There comes a time when we need to say enough is enough, and that time has come. We need to hold those in Washington responsible, so the fight’s on, and from this point going forward, wherever it takes us, that’s where we will be.”

… Attendees at the gathering represented a diverse mix of tribal and non-Native supporters. Daniel Jose is an Apache from Peridot who has camped at Oak Flat since the first spiritual gathering in February. “We’re going to fight for our land, and I’ll stay here forever if I have to,” he said.

A cross-country caravan called Apache Stronghold is gathering attention to the effort. Joesph Huff-Hannon writes about this at Rolling Stone, in “Meet the Apache Activists Opening for Neil Young“:

Starting at Red Rocks earlier this month, and in venues across the country since, the Apache have been linking up with Young on the road, sharing their stories and singing prayer songs to thousands of audience members.

The activists are trying to preserve a stretch of canyon land in Tonto National Forest called Oak Flat, an hour east of Phoenix, where young Apache women like Pike have celebrated coming-of-age ceremonies for generations. “I became a woman at Oak Flat, I had my sunrise dance there, so it’s like my heart is there,” she says.

They are getting some news. The Guardian, “Apache tribe brings battle for Oak Flat to New York’s Times Square“:

Members of the Apache tribe stood chanting in a circle with drums and posters in the center of New York’s Times Square on Friday, to protest against a bill that will hand over land they hold sacred to a foreign mining corporation.

Times Square was the latest stop for activists from the Apache tribe who are travelling across the United States to battle for Oak Flat and to draw attention to a bill introduced by Arizona representative Raúl M Grijalva to repeal the decision to hand the land over to Resolution Copper.

They are also beginning to get some results. Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva has introduced a bill to fight this. From Indian Country Today, “Grijalva’s Save Oak Flat Bill Boosted by Historic Preservation Listing“:

Legislation to save an Apache sacred site from destruction by an international mining company got a helping hand recently when the National Trust for Historic Preservation included the land on its 2015 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Almost all of the places that make it onto the list are preserved.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva(D-AZ) introduced the bipartisan Save Oak Flat Act,H.R. 2811, on June 17. Grijalva’s bill would repeal a section of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (NDAA) that authorizes approximately 2,422 acres of land known as Oak Flat in the Tonto National Forest in Southeastern Arizona to be transferred to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of the giant international mining company Rio Tinto.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently included the land on its 2015 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

What You Can Do

● Write and call your representative in Congress in support of Grijalva’s bill, H.R. 2811.

● Contact people running for office and let them know about this issue. (So far only Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has spoken out against this.)

● Visit the Apache Stronghold website for a number of things you can do. Send them money for gas and food.

● Visit and like Facebook pages: “Apache Stronghold,”
Save Oak Flat By Contacting Your Legislators” and
Indigenous Environmental Network.”

● Sign the CREDO Action petition, Don’t mine sacred Native American land in Arizona.

● Sign the MoveOn petition, Congress: Don’t give sacred Apache land to a mining company

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