Congress is poised to give a foreign mining company 2,400 acres of national forest in Arizona that is cherished ancestral homeland to Apache natives. Controversially, the measure is attached to annual legislation that funds the US Defense Department.
This week, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees quietly attached a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would mandate the handover of a large tract of Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of the Australian-English mining company Rio Tinto, which co-owns with Iran a uranium mine in Africa and which is 10-percent-owned by China.
The “Carl Levin and Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015” – named after the retiring chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services panels – includes the giveaway of Apache burial, medicinal, and ceremonial grounds currently within the bounds of Tonto. News of the land provision was kept under wraps until late Tuesday, when the billwas finally posted online.
The land proposed to be given to Resolution Copper, in exchange for other lands, includes prime territory Apaches have used for centuries to gather medicinal plants and acorns, and it is near a spot known as Apache Leap, a summit that Apaches jumped from to avoid being killed by settlers in the late 19th century.
Lands included in the plan will stop 1,500 feet short of Apache Leap and will not initially include an area known as Oak Flats, though, when it comes to the oaks, contradictory legal parameters are but a minor hurdle for a company like Resolution Copper to eventually drill there.
The House may vote on the NDAA as soon as this week with rules included that would bar the Senate from amending the legislation. On Wednesday night, a last-minute effort to strip the land provision from the NDAA failed in the House Rules Committee, which voted to give one hour for debate over the NDAA in the House.
Terry Rambler, chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, told The Huffington Post he was saddened by news of the proposal, yet not all that surprised.
Senator John McCain.(Reuters / Joshua Roberts )
“Of all people, Apaches and Indians should understand, because we’ve gone through this so many times in our history,” Rambler said.
“The first thing I thought about was not really today, but 50 years from now, probably after my time, if this land exchange bill goes through, the effects that my children and children’s children will be dealing with,” Rambler added.
“Since time immemorial people have gone there. That’s part of our ancestral homeland,” Rambler said. “We’ve had dancers in that area forever – sunrise dancers – and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They’ll seal that off. They’ll seal us off from the acorn grounds, and the medicinal plants in the area, and our prayer areas.”
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