Contributed Photo/Courtesy Sacred Land Film Project: Oak Flat, Chich’il Bildagoteel, is at the center of a dispute between the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Resolution Copper.
Contributed Article/Courtesy SCAT
SAN CARLOS APACHE RESERVATION — On Tuesday, San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Terry Rambler sharply criticized reports that the Biden Administration is preparing to approve the proposed Resolution Mine that would destroy sacred Indigenous land located at Oak Flat on the Tonto National Forest about 70 miles east of Phoenix.
“Obliterating Oak Flat for a copper mine will be a grave human rights violation against Indigenous people and an environmental catastrophe,” Chairman Rambler said. “Only China and shareholders of the two largest foreign mining companies in the world will benefit.”
Resolution Copper Company wants to construct one of the largest copper mines in the world using a mining plan that will destroy Oak Flat, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property.
“Oak Flat lies at the center of a regional cultural landscape, and the fact that this sacred site will be physically destroyed by the development of the Resolution Copper Mine is of great concern to all of the (nine) tribes we worked with,” according to 2021 Congressional testimony provided by Tucson-based Anthropological Research.
Nearly every Tribe in Arizona is opposed to the Resolution Mine along with the Inter Tribal Association of Arizona. National tribal organizations are also opposed to the Resolution Mine and have testified before Congress.
“Nineteen out of 22 Tribes in Arizona support saving Oak Flat,” Chairman Rambler stated. “Arizona’s tribal communities strongly supported Joe Biden in the 2020 election and delivered him the state. That political support will be seriously eroded by destroying Oak Flat.”
Resolution Copper is owned by Anglo-Australian miners Rio Tinto (55%) and BHP Group (45%). Rio Tinto’s single largest shareholder is the Aluminum Corporation of China, a Chinese state-owned mining company that holds nearly 15% of Rio Tinto’s stock. Rio Tinto’s single largest customer is China, which accounted for 57% of its sales last year.
Resolution Copper has never formally committed to processing copper in the United States, which only has three smelters needed to begin the copper refining process. The lack of domestic smelting capacity has resulted in more than 25% of the raw copper mined in the U.S. being exported overseas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2022 copper report.
“Not only will the Resolution Mine destroy our most sacred site, but its copper will also be exported overseas for processing, most likely to China,” Chairman Rambler said.
Rio Tinto and BHP have notorious records of destroying Indigenous sites across the world. In 2020 Rio Tinto destroyed 46,000-year-old rock shelters in Juukan Gorge, Australia. The destruction triggered worldwide outrage forcing top management changes at Rio Tinto and the company pledging never to undertake such action again.
“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the destruction of a site of such exceptional cultural significance never happens again,” the company states on its website.
“Despite Rio Tinto’s promise, the company is poised to inflict another blow on sacred and irreplaceable Indigenous land,” Chairman Rambler said. “The company’s promises mean nothing.”
The Biden Administration is also ignoring experts that have found that this mine will draw down the region’s groundwater supply and construct one of the largest toxic waste tailings dumps on earth posing a serious threat to future generations.
Water experts have calculated that the Resolution Mine will consume 775,000 acre-feet of water – enough for 149,000 homes per year for 40 years – in the middle of the worst megadrought in Arizona’s history. The groundwater pumping will threaten the water supply for the Town of Superior, Queen Creek, the East Salt River Valley, and a large part of the Tonto National Forest.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, has indicated it plans to move forward with the publication of a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) soon despite having failed to engage in legally required formal consultation with the Tribe. Publication of the FEIS will trigger a 60-day deadline for the Forest Service to give Oak Flat to Resolution Copper.
“The Administration’s pending decision to forego consultation with the Tribe seriously damages the government-to-government relationship between the Tribe and the federal government,” Chairman Rambler stated. “This is a serious breach of trust not only with the San Carlos Apache Tribe but with all Native American communities across the country.”
Homer Wilkes, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, told the Council during a March 28 special meeting that he will personally notify Chairman Rambler at least 60 days before the FEIS is published. Dr. Wilkes did not state when the FEIS will be published but indicated the Forest Service is moving forward with finalizing the report.
Forest Service Associate Deputy Chief Troy Heitheker also told the Council that the Forest Service has abandoned its promise made to the Tribe in February 2022 to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Tribe that would set the parameters for a formal consultation that would be conducted before the FEIS was published.
“USDA is poised to move forward with (the) publication of the Resolution Mine’s Final Environmental Impact Statement after it made repeated promises to the Tribe it would not do so until an MOU was signed and meaningful consultation has been conducted,” Chairman Rambler said.
The Tribe filed a federal lawsuit in January 2021 after the Trump Administration published its FEIS alleging the environmental report violated numerous federal laws. The lawsuit was put on hold by the court after the Biden Administration withdrew the FEIS. The Tribe’s lawsuit will be reactivated once the new FEIS is published. A second federal lawsuit filed by the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition was also stayed and will be reactivated as well.
“The Biden Administration must be held accountable in federal court for its flagrant violation of federal laws and reneging on its promise to hold good faith consultations with the Tribe,” Chairman Rambler said. “The Biden Administration’s commitment to Indian Country will be seriously eroded if it approves this mine.”