From Mark Trahant, " Press Release: Tribes pitch Congress on coastal issues, riders,"    Trahant Reports, November 4, 2015, http://trahantreports.com/.

WASHINGTON D.C. (11/4/15)–The congressional action transferring National Forest Service lands to Resolution Copper, a giant foreign mining company at Oak Flat in the Tonto National Forest of Arizona was “beneath contempt, a violation of Constitutionally-protected treaty law and an infringement on American Indian civil rights,” according to Fawn Sharp, President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.

Testifying at a special forum held by U.S. House Natural Resources Democrats this morning, Sharp said tribes across the continent strongly support the San Carlos Apache, the Yavapai and other tribes in the Oak Flat region which consider the area sacred and oppose the congressional action which would devastate it. Oak Flat is a vast area of rugged natural beauty, punctuated by towering cliffs, stream beds and archaeological and historical artifacts, just 70 miles east of Phoenix, Arizona.

“These tribes have cherished this land for thousands of years. They have valued it beyond any amount of money and beyond any level most non-Indians can easily comprehend. Now the federal government is saying that that this foreign company can come in and dig a mile-wide hole in the ground right in the middle of this precious area, in a search of copper. It is a tragedy that must be stopped,” said Sharp.

Legislative efforts to enable this land exchange repeatedly failed for years, until a rider to the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act was enacted into law in December of 2014. President Obama signed that bill, but the Administration has since reneged on the rider, realizing the error.

In her testimony to this morning’s forum, ATNI President Sharp, who is also President of the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington as well as Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, emphasized that the rider was, in fact, a closed door deal. Former San Carlos Chairman Wendsler Nosie, Sr., has called it “the greatest sin in the world.”

The ore being targeted by Resolution Copper is located 7,000 feet below ground level in the sacred area, where the Apache people have gathered acorns and medicinal herbs and held coming-of-age ceremonies since prehistoric times.

“Our homelands continue to be taken away,” said Nosie, decrying what he termed the dirty way in which a land-swap rider had been attached to a must-pass bill that sailed through Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The amended legislation, with the support of Arizona Senator John McCain, was “an action that constitutes a holy war, where tribes must stand in unity and fight to the very end,” according to Nosie.

Tribes have held protests against the deal in Tucson and outside Senator John McCain’s Phoenix office. They have held a two-day, 44-mile march from the San Carlos tribal headquarters, “A Spiritual Journey to a Sacred Unity” at Oak Flat.

At its 2015 Mid-Year Convention at the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon in May, ATNI passed Resolution 15-25, “Support for Repeal of Section 3003 of the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange.”

That resolution emphasized that the United States government has legal and moral obligations to provide access to Native Americans and to protect traditional cultural territories in a manner that respects the cultural, historical, spiritual and religious importance to Indian tribes. It read, “Oak Flat is a place filled with power – a place where Native people go today for prayer, to conduct ceremonies such as Holy Ground and the Apache Puberty Rite Ceremony which some refer to as the Sunrise Dance, which celebrates a young woman’s coming of age, to gather medicines and ceremonial items, and to seek and obtain peace and personal cleansing.”

The resolution emphasized the deep spiritual significance of the Oak Flat location as well as its historical and environmental importance and said the last-minute tactics used to pass the rider represents the antithesis of democracy and everything that is wrong with Congress, as well as a dangerous precedent. It called for Congress to enact legislation to repeal the land exchange and called for full transparency and information sharing with the general public the outcomes of environmental assessment and impacts on tribal religion and culture in the future.

“I can’t emphasize it enough. We stand with San Carlos, just as we stand with any tribe when its sovereignty, its culture and the rights of its people are trod upon by anyone, any time, any place,” said Sharp. 

For more information contact Steve Robinson (360) 951-2494 Water4fish@comcast.net.