Environment | National | Politics

Bill in Senate repeals rider for mine at sacred Apache site

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), third from left in back row, with tribal leaders and tribal members in Washington, D.C., on November 4, 2015. Photo from Twitter

The campaign to protect a sacred Apache site from development is gaining support on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, introduced S.2242, the Save Oak Flat Act, on Thursday. The bill repeals a rider that authorizes a copper mine at Oak Flat in Arizona.

“Too many times our Native American brothers and sisters have seen the profits of huge corporations put ahead of their sovereign rights,” Sanders said in a press release. “It is 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.”

The rider was the work of several members of Arizona's Congressional delegation who support the Resolution Copper mine. They inserted Section 3003 into the 1,648-page National Defense Authorization Act even though nearly every tribe in the state opposes the project.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: House Roundtable on Sacred Sites November 4, 2015

"The Senate introduction is welcome news to residents of Arizona, Indian Country, the United States, and the world," Wendsler Nosie Sr., a council member for the San Carlos Apache Tribe who is leading the Apache Stronghold movement, said in a press release. "The bill shines light on the deceit used to enact the land exchange."

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced H.R.2811, a companion to the Save Oak Flat Act, in July. His bill hasn't received a hearing but he said the Senate version offers "parallel vehicles to be able to work with."

"That is a good thing," Grijalva said at a roundtable on sacred sites that he hosted on Wednesday.

Tribal representatives showed strong support for protecting Oak Flat at the forum. Their lobbying prevented the House from taking action on a stand-alone bill for the copper mine in prior sessions of Congress.

Section 3003, on the other hand, was inserted without public notice into the "must pass" defense bill. It came as the 113th Congress was winding down, leaving almost no room to consider alternatives.

“The fight to save Oak Flat will succeed,” Randi Spivak, the public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “People from across the country, and even around the world, are outraged by what’s happened with Oak Flat and won’t stand by to see our public lands and American Indian sacred sites be destroyed for profits.”

During the roundtable on Wednesday, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups presented Grijalva with the signatures of more than 1 million people who support the protection of Oak Flat.

Get the Story:
San Carlos Apache bring fight against Oak Flat mine back to Congress (Cronkite News 11/5)
Apaches continue to camp out for Oak Flat (Arizona Sonora News 10/31)

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