Originally published at MintPress News.
OAK FLAT, Arizona –— The San Carlos Apache Tribe held a celebratory dinner on July 27 to welcome back members of the Apache Stronghold caravan after a two-week journey from the tribe’s reservation in Bylas, Arizona, to Washington, D.C. The dinner menu featured a traditional Apache acorn soup and juice squeezed from skunkbush sumac berries — both of which are threatened by a proposed $6 billion mining operation.
The Apache Stronghold formed in December in response to a last-minute legislative provision included in the the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015. The provision at issue in the annual Defense Department funding bill grants Resolution Copper Mining, a subsidiary of Australian-English mining giant Rio Tinto, a 2,400-acre land parcel which includes parts of the Tonto National Forest, protected national forest in Arizona where it will create the continent’s largest copper mine.
Some of those lands are considered sacred by multiple Native American communities, including the Oak Flat campground. The area is not recognized as part of the San Carlos Apache Reservation, but it has historically been used by the Apache for trading purposes and spiritual ceremonies.
“This is appalling, this would not happen at any other holy place in the world,” Reddog Rudy, an Apache Stronghold supporter with the Xicano, Ute and Pinoy Nations, told MintPress News. “If someone tried to extract minerals from the Vatican or from Jerusalem it would be seen as an abomination.”
The National Environmental Policy Act stipulates that an impact assessment on the environment, archaeological and historic sites, as well as spaces considered sacred by Native Americans, must be completed prior to a land swap. However, under the NDAA 2015, Resolution Copper will be awarded the land 60 days after the required environmental impact statement has been completed. This raises questions about whether a fair assessment can be completed when Resolution Copper has already been awarded the land for the proposed copper mine.
”The bill says that Congress has already decided that the land swap will take place. So we’ll do the land swap and then we’ll do NEPA,” Jeffrey Altschul, president of the Society for American Archaeology, is quoted by Science magazine as saying in December.
The mine has the support of Arizona Reps. Paul Gosar and Ann Kirkpatrick, as well as Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake. Originally introduced in 2005 by Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange has consistently faced opposition from the San Carlos Apache. Following the passage of the land swap policy rider in the NDAA 2015, Flake commented on the need to include the measure into the much larger NDAA rather than passing the bill on its own.
“It’s never good to see big packages with so many things in them — that’s what we want to get away from,” Flake told the Huffington Post. “But it’s been very difficult to move individual pieces of legislation over the last few years.”
The passage of this particular piece of legislation had been “very difficult” partly because of the threats to Apache land, history and way of life, as well as environmental concerns.
Rudy was one of hundreds of supporters who joined the Apache Stronghold as they traveled to reservations across the country in an attempt to drum up support for their fight. The Stronghold stopped for ceremonies and rallies in cities across the country before finishing their journey outside of the Capitol.
When the Stronghold attempted to meet with Rep. Gosar at his D.C. office the group was threatened with arrest by Capitol Police. As Vonda Cassadore, of Bylas, and other grandmothers with the Stronghold were forced to leave Gosar’s office, Censored News reports Cassadore warned: “We’ll remember this when Election Day comes around. Sacred land means more than money.”
Speaking to MintPress, Cassadore emphasized that the land swap will take away her ability to teach her 8-year-old granddaughter how to cook traditional Apache food. “If Oak Flat turns into a mine and we lose the acorn,” she said, “how am I going to show her how to do that?”
On July 21 and 22 the Apache Stronghold gathered outside the U.S. Capitol, where they sang songs, held prayer, and spoke to anyone who would listen to their plight.
“Today is our day. Today is our ceremony. We’re not here looking at this Capitol like it’s in charge of us,” Wendsler Nosie, an Apache Stronghold organizer and tribal councilman, told Reuters.