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Senate heads to final vote on package with mine on sacred land

This image shows the area above Surprise, Arizona, where the Resolution Copper mine would be built. The area includes Oak Flat, Apache Leap and other sites used by Apache tribes for food, medicine and ceremonies. Image from SkyTruth / Google Maps

After days of delay, it's decision time for the National Defense Authorization Act, a controversial bill that authorizes a mine on sacred Apache lands in Arizona.

The House voted 300 to 119 last week to pass the 1,648-page package. If it clears the Senate today it would allow Resolution Copper to open a huge mine on lands used by Apache tribes for food and medicinal gathering and for ceremonies, including coming-of-age rites that were held as recently as October.

"Hundreds of tribal governments, tribal organizations, and others have joined San Carlos Apaches in opposition to the land exchange because it would transfer public federal lands that encompass a known Native place of worship to a private mining company," Chairman Terry Rambler of the San Carlos Apache Tribe said in Indian Country Today on Wednesday.

The mine and other non-defense provisions have held up consideration in the Senate. But the objections weren't enough to prevent the bill from moving forward after a 85 to 14 vote on Thursday.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), a former member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee who is leaving Congress this year, is planning procedural maneuvers this afternoon to try and block the bill, according to the Senate majority leader's schedule. He isn't necessarily questioning the mine but wonders why the swap -- along with dozens of other non-defense land provisions -- haven't gone through the regular process in Congress.

"I know I won't win this battle," Coburn said this afternoon.

If Coburn doesn't succeed, as he anticipates, the bill will advance for a final vote that needs support from at least 60 Senators, according to the schedule.

The bill being voted on is H.R.3979.

Get the Story:
Congressional deal could compromise sacred Arizona Indian land (KTAR 12/12)
Senate advances Defense bill (The Hill 12/11)

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