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War of words escalates on mine at sacred Apache site in Arizona

The Apache Stronghold was denied a meeting with Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) after a rally at the U.S. Capitol on July 22, 20215. Photo from Facebook

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) took pains last week not to mention the San Carlos Apache Tribe while slamming a "misinformation campaign" against a controversial mine on a sacred site in Arizona.

In his press release, the Arizona Republican blamed "environmental extremist groups" for raising questions about the mine at Oak Flat, a sacred gathering, ceremonial and burial site. He only mentioned the tribe in quoting the four-year-old testimony of a former chairman whose views do not represent the current position of the Apache people or their leadership.

But Gosar was more blunt in a Dear Colleague letter that his office has not circulated to the media. In it, he claimed that tribal leaders -- though he did not mention them by name -- were participating in a "severely misguided" effort to repeal the land swap that allows the Resolution Copper mine to go forward.

And earlier this month Gosar was even more critical. Again, without mentioning them by name, he accused the tribe and its leadership of making "deceitful" statements about the sacred nature of Oak Flat.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: House Natural Resources Committee Debate on Sacred Sites

"We have to be truthful about what we designate as a sacred site," Gosar said at the House Natural Resources Committee markup on July 9. "We have to be forthcoming and not just make erroneous claims."

"They're no different than anybody else," Gosar said of tribes and their leaders. "They have to be held to the letter of the law."

Gosar's negative comments were one of the reasons why the Apache Stronghold, a group led by San Carlos Apache council member Wendsler Nosie Sr., came to Washington, D.C., last week. Supporters called on Congress to pass H.R.2811, the Save Oak Flat Act, a bill that repeals the land swap, in a rally at the U.S. Capitol.

Rally participants -- some of whom drove over 2,000 miles from Arizona -- tried to meet with Gosar to discuss his views but were told to leave by his staff and the Capitol Police. Nosie, a former chairman, accused the Republican lawmaker of "cowering behind a locked door" rather than face his opponents.

YouTube video by Wendy Kenin: #ApacheStronghold #SaveOakFlat Attempt to Lobby Rep Gosar's Office

"Rep.Gosar should apologize for that, as wellas for his strange and insulting ‘Dear Colleague’ letter," Nosie said in a press release.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), the sponsor of H.R.2811, is also challenging Gosar's view of the controversy. In two Dear Colleague letters that were sent out today, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee said the facts support the tribe.

"The most offensive part is the continued claim by Resolution and its corporate boosters that it will not cause harm to Oak Flat or other nearby sacred lands such as Apache Leap, where a group of warriors leapt to their deaths to avoid capture by pursuing U.S. cavalry," Grijalva said in one of the letters. "The truth is that these sacred lands face the risk of severe damage if the Resolution Copper project moves forward."

"The San Carlos Apache know this, which is why they have forthrightly opposed this giveaway from the beginning," Grijalva said.

Congress approved the mine as part of the 1,648-page National Defense Authorization Act that was passed in the final hours of the last legislative session. Grijalva's bill repeals Section 3003 but it has not yet received a hearing before his own committee.

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