House approves bill to authorize mine on sacred site in Arizona

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

The House today passed a defense bill that authorizes a controversial mine on a sacred Apache site in Arizona.

Section 3003 of the 1,600-page National Defense Authorization Act approves a land swap in the Tonto National Forest. Some 2,400 acres will be transferred to Resolution Copper for a mine that will affect land used by Apache tribes for food, medicine and ceremonies.

Godmother Michelle Antonio dresses Nizhoni Pike, at the beginning of her Sunrise Ceremony. The coming-of-age rite took place on land that will be transferred to a company for a mining project. Photo by Anna Jeffrey for The Apache Messenger

“Since time immemorial people have gone there. That’s part of our ancestral homeland," Terry Rambler, the chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, told The Huffington Post. "We’ve had dancers in that area forever -- sunrise dancers -- and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They’ll seal that off. They’ll seal us off from the acorn grounds, and the medicinal plants in the area, and our prayer areas.”

Rambler became aware of the language on Tuesday night, when lawmakers released the text of the massive package. The next day he introduced President Barack Obama at the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

Later on Wednesday, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma) -- who are the only two enrolled tribal members in Congress -- tried to remove Section 3003 before it reached the floor. The effort failed by a 4-6 vote in the House Rules Committee, according to a report accompanying the bill.

Section 3003 requires the Department of Agriculture to consult with Apache tribes before the land swap is finalized. However, those talks will be effectively meaningless because nearly every tribe in Arizona has already adopted positions in opposition to the mine.

Even if USDA takes into account the tribal opposition, the land swap will still go through. It only requires Resolution Copper to come up with "mutually acceptable measures" to address the impacts to the sacred sites.

Get the Story:
Congress Raids Ancestral Native American Lands With Defense Bill (The Huffington Post 12/3)
Congress gives Native American lands to foreign mining company with new NDAA (RT 12/3)
Controversial mine legislation slipped into defense bill (The Arizona Republic 12/4)
House OKs Bill With Pay Raise for Troops, Pay Freeze for Some Officers (Government Executive 12/4)

An Opinion:
Daniel McGroarty: Federal land exchanges in the National Defense Authorization Act (The Hill 12/4)

Related Stories
Apache Messenger: Younger generation returns to sacred site (10/10)
San Carlos Apache Tribe testifies against land swap measure (11/21)
Tribal lobbying halts measure for copper mine by sacred site (11/14)
Ex-Rep. Rick Renzi sentenced to three years in corruption case (10/29)
Editorial: Respect tribe's concerns about mine near sacred site (10/16)
House takes up bill to authorize copper mine near sacred site (9/26)

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