Chair Grijalva Introduces “Save Oak Flat Act” to Permanently Protect Tribal Sacred Site in Central Arizona From Destructive Mining

March 15, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today introduced the Save Oak Flat Act to permanently protect the Oak Flat area of Tonto National Forest from destructive mining proposals. Oak Flat, or Chi’chil Bildagoteel, is of significant cultural importance and considered sacred by many tribal communities in Arizona, including the San Carlos Apache Tribe, which has resisted a years-long effort by Resolution Copper – owned by international mining conglomerates BHP and Rio Tinto – to mine the region.

The San Carlos Apache and many other tribes strongly support Grijalva’s bill.

The issue was recently featured on The Today Show and has received intensive news coverage in recent weeks. On March 1, the Biden administration withdrew an environmental impact statement, published in the waning hours of the Trump administration, that would have finalized a land swap between Tonto National Forest and Resolution Copper, after which the mine would have moved forward.

Chair Grijalva and colleagues sent a letter to acting Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Shea on February 19 urging reconsideration of the document, given its rushed timing and clearly political nature. Grijalva has been leading the issue since the insertion of an unrelated provision in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act mandating the federal government transfer 2,422 acres of Tonto National Forest land to Resolution Copper in exchange for less valuable land elsewhere.

“The San Carlos Apache never asked for this land to become a political issue, but this is not a fight we’re going to lose,” Grijalva said today. “I will work to move this bill forward, this land is going to be protected, and we’re going to establish that you don’t get to push around Native American communities just because you can make a profit. The Biden administration was doing its job in withdrawing the Trump administration’s politically motivated analysis, and now that we can move forward in a more rational way, this land is going to be protected for the long term.”

“Too many times our Native American brothers and sisters have seen the profits of huge corporations put ahead of their sovereign rights,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), author of the Senate companion bill. “It is wrong that a backroom deal in Washington could lead to the destruction of a sacred area that is so important to so many. We must defend the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are standing in opposition to this giveaway of our natural resources to foreign corporations.”

The Committee held a March 12, 2020, oversight hearing titled The Irreparable Environmental and Cultural Impacts of the Proposed Resolution Copper Mining Operation to highlight the issue. The new bill will be the subject of a forthcoming hearing in the Natural Resources Committee.

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