San Carlos Apache Tribe clashes with Rep. Gosar after rally

Sandra Rambler, a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, speaks at the Save Oak Flat rally at the U.S. Capitol on July 22, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com

Members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe declared victory in their campaign to protect one of their most sacred places at a rally at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday even as some were threatened with arrest by a Republican member of Congress.

With almost no financial backing, the Apache Stronghold left Arizona earlier this month on a 2,000-mile journey to educate the nation about the threats facing Oak Flat, a sacred gathering, ceremonial and burial site in Arizona. The trip culminated in a rousing rally in the Washington, D.C., heat with calls to support a bill that will protect the land from a controversial mining development.

"Nothing is going to stop us," elder Sandra Rambler stated to cheers. "No surrender."

As a spiritual leader within the tribe, Manuel Cooley said it's not common for him to take political stands. But Oak Flat is so important to his people that he drove to the nation's capital to explain why the proposed Resolution Copper mine will destroy the site.

"It's big to us as Apache people. There's healing there," Cooley said at the rally. "For us to lose that is like losing your own child."

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), far right, with members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe at Save Oak Flat rally in Washington, D.C. July 22, 2015. Photo from Facebook

To stop the mine, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) introduced H.R.2811, the Save Oak Flat Act, on June 16. The bill, which has bipartisan support, repeals a land deal that was inserted into a much-larger package that became law in the final days of the last session of Congress.

“No member of Congress should feel proud – or feel like they got away with something – by ignoring the needs and rights of the original Americans," Grijalva said yesterday. "Oak Flat is as sacred to the Apache people as any other church, temple, synagogue or mosque is to its congregants across this country."

Rambler, who has been an outspoken opponent of the mine, blamed members of Arizona's Congressional delegation for slipping the land swap into the 1,648-page National Defense Authorization Act. She said she would continue to stand up to Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Arizona), who will be campaigning against each other for U.S. Senate in 2016, due to their support for the mine.

Representatives of the Apache Stronghold unveil a banner targeting some of the supporters of the Resolution Copper mine -- Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Arizona). Photo by Indianz.Com

"Am I intimidated by McCain? No way," said Rambler, who vowed to do whatever it takes to protect Oak Flat, where her grandmother is buried. "Am I intimidated by Kirkpatrick? No way."

As chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, McCain had direct control over the defense package that included Section 3003. By inserting it into the must-pass bill, Congress avoided controversy over the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, a standalone version of the land swap.

Intense lobbying from tribes forced Republican leaders to pull votes on the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act not just once but twice. Ernie Stevens, the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, vowed his organization's support for the repeal effort.

"We're here to stand with you," Stevens said at the rally.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona). Photo from Facebook

McCain and Kirkpatrick haven't waded into the controversy despite widespread media coverage of the land swap. But Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona), another supporter of the mine, lashed out against environmental groups earlier this week, accusing them of spreading "misinformation" about Resolution Copper.

"In reality, this land exchange does not take any reservation lands, ensures greater protection for actual sacred tribal lands, will result in environmental protections for 5,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land, requires full environmental compliance before the exchange can be completed and even maintains tribal access to Oak Flat," Gosar said in a press release.

Gosar didn't mention the San Carlos Apache Tribe or the Apache Stronghold in his press release. But he claimed that a former chairman supported the mine and included a copy of testimony submitted in 2011 -- two Congressional sessions ago.

Current Chairman Terry Rambler, who spoke at the rally yesterday, does not support the mine and has been lobbying Congress to repeal the land swap.

To address their concerns, tribal members -- including elderly grandmothers and youth -- went to Gosar's office on Capitol Hill after the rally in hopes of talking with him. They said they were shut out and threatened with arrest by the U.S. Capitol Police.

Young tribal members took part in the Save Oak Flat rally at the U.S. Capitol on July 22, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com

"Rep. Gosar has a record of intolerance and saying vicious things against Native Americans, but his behavior has now become stranger than ever," said council member Wendsler Nosie, Sr., who led the Apache Stronghold across the nation. "There is no excuse for his mistreatment of the Apache grandmothers and young ladies who came to his office."

Vonda Cassadore and other tribal members who went to Gosar's office were not arrested. But she was escorted out of the Cannon House Building by the Capitol Police.

"We’ll remember this when Election Day comes around," Cassadore said. "Sacred land means more than money."

Members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe with Save Oak Flat banner at the U.S. Capitol on July 22, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com

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