Save Oak Flat caravan plans journey to DC to protect sacred site

The San Carlos Apache Tribe led a walk to 40-mile journey to Oak Flat in Arizona to protest a copper mine at a sacred site. Photo by Kenneth Chan / Facebook

Members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona and their supporters are embarking on a caravan journey to Washington, D.C., to call attention to the threats facing a sacred site.

The Apache Stronghold held a send-off rally last night in Tucson. Two groups will leave Arizona this weekend and will travel through multiple states in an effort to protect Oak Flat from a controversial mine.

"They declared war on our religion, we must stand in unity and fight to the very end, for this is a holy war," Wendsler Nosie Sr., a council member and former chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, states on the group's website.

After passing through New Mexico, Colorado, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, participants plan to arrive in D.C. on July 20. They will rally in support of H.R.2811, a bill that repeals the land swap that paved the way for the mine.

The bill, known as the Save Oak Flat Act, was introduced on June 17. It has 14 co-sponsors -- most are Democrats but three are Republicans, including Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), who are the only members of a federally recognized tribe in Congress.

The measure repeals Section 3003 of the H.R.3979, the National Defense Authorization Act. The 1,648-page package authorizes the transfer of federal land at Oak Flat to Resolution Copper, a company controlled by foreign corporations.

Tribes across the nation called on Congress to remove the provision from the bill. Cole and Mullin tried to do that but were opposed by fellow Republicans in a committee vote last year.

President Barack Obama eventually signed the defense measure into law even as Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said she was "profoundly disappointed" by the mine swap.

In October 2014, Nizhoni Pike, a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, held a coming-of-age ceremony in an area that will be affected by the land swap and the Resolution Copper mine. Photo by Anna Jeffrey for The Apache Messenger

More than 100,000 people signed a petition in opposition to the swap. The White House responded by saying the Obama administration will work with the mining company to address concerns about the sacred site.

Although Section 3003 requires consultation of tribes that will be affected by the mine, it allows the swap to go through no matter how strong the objections. It only requires Resolution Copper to come up with "mutually acceptable measures" to address the impacts to the sacred sites.

Oak Flat is used for food and medicinal gathering and for ceremonies. Coming-of-age rites were held there as recently as October 2014.

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