US Bill holds hope for San Carlos Apaches' sacred land
Oak Flat, located in Arizona's Tonto National Forest, is holy ground for the San Carlos Apaches, which was transferred to a foreign mining company
A bill has been introduced in the US House of Representatives seeking to undo a contentious decision of the federal government that handed over a sacred land of the locals in Arizona to a foreign mining company.
Congressman Raúl Manuel Grijalva has introduced legislation, Save Oak Flat Act, to prevent the transfer of sacred Apache land to the Resolution Copper mining company which, if passed, would give a big relief to the San Carlos Apaches who pray and hold traditional ceremonies at Oak Flat, located in Arizona's Tonto National Forest.
The earlier decision to give the land to the mining company was being resented by the locals and had been posing a looming threat to the area since 2014.
The land in question was a last-minute addition to the 2015 Defense Budget Bill. The Environmental Impact Survey (EIS) was published ahead of schedule on 15 January 15 following the Trump administration urging, paving the way for the land transfer.
Apache Stronghold, a group of Natives and non-Native allies, had filed an emergency lawsuit to contest the rushed process. The ray of hope came when the incumbent US President Joe Biden's administration withdrew the EIS, postponing the deal indefinitely.
The Save Oak Flat Act introduced by Grijalva seeks to repeal Section 3003 of the National Defense Authorization Act, 2015 that contained the clause granting the transfer.
Grijalva's bill has cited various reasons invalidate the land transfer swap being invalid including an assertion that the deal was introduced twice as separate, independent legislation, and was rejected each time. There was also not enough time to propose an amendment to remove Section 3003.
The bill also highlights that the deal violates the trust responsibility agreement between indigenous nations and the federal government, which requires the federal government to meaningfully consult the affected tribes before taking any decision that might impact them.
If adopted, Grijalva's legislation would save Oak Flat from alleged irreparable damage. Resolution Copper had plans to use a technique called block caving that hollows out land deep under the ground, eventually causing the entire site to collapse in on itself.
It has also been said that the mining process would produce a toxic waste that could contaminate nearby land and water sources.
Senator Bernie Sanders who represents Vermont in the Upper House of the US Congress has been quoted as saying that it was wrong that a backroom deal in Washington could lead to the destruction of a sacred area that is so important to so many. "We must defend the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are standing in opposition to this giveaway of our natural resources to foreign corporations," Senator Sanders, who is author of the Senate companion bill and is chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said.