Environment | Opinion | Politics

Ernie Stevens: Support sacred Oak Flat and the Apache Stronghold

YouTube: Copper Miners Vs. Apache People – Fighting For Sacred Land

For more than a decade, the San Carlos Apache Tribe-with the support of more than 400 Indian tribes and tribal organizations throughout Indian Country-fought to stop legislation titled the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange.

The land exchange mandates the transfer of U.S. Forest Service lands to foreign mining corporations. The federal forest service lands at Oak Flat are held as sacred and a place of worship for the San Carlos Apache and other tribes in the region. The National Indian Gaming Association's Board united with San Carlos and passed several resolutions opposing this misguided land transfer.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe's opposition to the land exchange is based on the following concerns: (1) the land transfer and resulting copper mine, which is nearly two miles below the surface of the earth, will destroy the Tribe's place of worship and its way of life; (2) the copper mine will deplete the region's water supply and has potential to adversely impact the Tribe's water rights; and (3) the transfer earmarks benefits of at least tens of billions of dollars of American resources to foreign mining corporations with no strings or requirements that the resources be used in the United States.

Because of significant tribal opposition to the land exchange, House leadership was forced to pull the bill from floor consideration on two occasions in the 113th Congress.

The Apache Stronghold caravan received support during a stop in Window Rock, Arizona. The group is making its way to Washington, D.C., to draw attention to dangers facing sacred Oak Flat. Photo from Facebook

However, as the 113th Congress came to a close, proponents of the land exchange forced a closed-door agreement to include the bill as a rider "Section 3003" in the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act. The NDAA is must-pass legislation that is required to fund our troops and Defense Department operations. The FY15 NDAA passed Congress and was signed into law as Public Law No. 113-291 by President Obama on December 19, 2014.

This sets a dangerous precedent for all of Indian Country and struck a blow against the protection of Native American treaty rights and sacred sites located on federal lands. However, the fight is not over to protect Oak Flat.

To continue to shine light on the atrocities of the Land Exchange and educate the public, members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and others interested in protecting tribal treaty rights and Native sacred places are traveling to Washington, D.C.

The Apache Stronghold group departed Arizona on July 5th and will arrive in Washington, D.C. on July 21st with a protest rally on the U.S. Capitol lawn on July 22nd. The rally coincides with NIGA's Summer Legislative Summit (July 21-22). Along with attending NIGA's Summit, we encourage you to attend this important gathering to protect our Native sacred places.

Ernest L. Stevens, Jr., a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, serves as chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association.

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