Washington, D.C. – House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today announced the introduction of the Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act to permanently protect Tonto National Forest’s Chí’chil Biłdagoteel Historic District, also known as Oak Flat, from foreign mining operations that will permanently desecrate the area and destroy its tribal cultural and religious heritage sites.
Full bill text of the Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act is available here.
A fact sheet on the bill is available here.
Oak Flat is sacred to several tribal nations in Arizona, including the San Carlos Apache Tribe, whose citizens have visited the area to conduct cultural ceremonies and gather traditional medicines and food for millennia.
In 2015, a non-germane midnight rider was inserted into the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act that mandated the public land transfer of the Oak Flat area to Resolution Copper for proposed copper mining operations. Resolution Copper is owned by Rio Tinto, a foreign-owned mining conglomerate, whose majority shareholder is the Chinalco holding company for the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC) of the People’s Republic of China. Rio Tinto gained renewed notoriety in 2020 after destroying a 46,000-year-old Indigenous heritage site that was sacred to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Peoples in western Australia.
The Trump administration rushed the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed mine before leaving office in January 2021. In response to major public outcry and evidence of significant deficiencies in the impact analysis, the Biden administration rescinded the Trump-era EIS, but will still be mandated by law to proceed with the process after the release of an updated EIS. With the future of Oak Flat currently in limbo, the Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act is needed to permanently protect the area for generations to come.
“Turning Oak Flat into a political bargaining chip was an assault against tribal sovereignty that never should have happened,” said Grijalva. “Doing it on behalf of a foreign-owned mining conglomerate with a documented record of destroying Indigenous sacred sites and human rights violations makes it just that much more unconscionable. I urge my colleagues to do right by the San Carlos Apache Tribe and all of our tribal communities by moving quickly to pass this bill before it’s too late.”
Original cosponsors of the Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act include Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-CNMI), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), and Rep. Leger Fernández (D-N.M.).
Supporters of the Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act include the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the Fort Yuma Quechan Tribe, the Cocopah Tribe, the Hopi Tribe, the Ak-Chin Indian Community, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the Inter Tribal Association of Arizona, Apache Stronghold, the National Congress of American Indians, Patagonia, Sierra Club – Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter, National Wildlife Federation, Earthjustice, Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO), National Trust for Historic Preservation, Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners Coalition of Superior, AZ, Center for Biological Diversity, Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, EarthKeepers 360, Access Fund, and Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
Statements of Support
“Our Tribe strongly supports passage of this bill,” said the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s Chairman Terry Rambler. “The Resolution Mine would destroy our most sacred site at Oak Flat and the raw copper extracted will be exported overseas for processing, most likely to China. Resolution’s copper would not directly benefit the American people and instead cripple Arizona’s already increasingly scarce water supply by consuming enough water for 140,000 people each year for 40 years.”
“Oak Flat is like Mount Sinai to us—our most sacred site where we connect with our Creator, our faith, our families, and our land,” said Dr. Wendsler Nosie, Sr. of Apache Stronghold. “It has been sacred to us since long before Europeans came to this continent, and it is imperative that it be protected for generations—so our, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren can continue our religious ceremonies that make us Apaches.”
“Ignoring and dismissing the many concerns raised by Tribal Nations and Indigenous activists, as well as conservation groups and recreationists, Congress allowed a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of FY2015 to facilitate the trade of Oak Flat to a multinational mining company. Today, Sierra Club applauds Representative Grijalva for introducing the Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act to reverse that trade and stop the certain destruction of Oak Flat, the pollution of the land with a massive tailings dam, and the extraction of massive amounts of precious Arizona water,” said Sandy Bahr, director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter.
“Representative Grijalva’s Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act is essential to ensure that Chi’chil Biłdagoteel — an irreplaceable cultural and religious site for the Apache and other Indigenous peoples — is not destroyed by a destructive mining operation,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, executive vice president of the National Wildlife Federation. “Congress should swiftly take up this bill and affirm that Indigenous communities’ religious rights matter. We still have an immense amount of work to do as a nation to fulfill our treaty obligations to Tribal Nations and to engage in prior and meaningful consultation, but passing Representative Grijalva’s Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act would be an important step in the right direction.”
“The Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act is critical to protecting sacred lands and would stop the siphoning of approximately 250 billion gallons of water from a region that is already struggling with a mega-drought,” said Camilla Simon, executive director of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO). “We are already exporting over twenty-five percent of copper that is mined in the U.S., and we shouldn’t be increasing that amount at the expense of depleting, destroying, and contaminating the precious water resources for wildlife and Arizona communities.”
“Oak Flat in southeast Arizona is a religious, historic, and culturally significant site for the San Carlos Apache tribe and other tribes in the region and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. For over a decade, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has opposed the development of the large-scale mine proposed for this area that would risk destroying many existing and also unidentified, prehistoric and historic cultural artifacts. We thank Representative Grijalva for his leadership on legislation that supports the preservation of irreplaceable historic resources,” said Pam Bowman, Senior Director of Public Lands Policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“This bill is a critical step toward protecting a Native American sacred site, irreplaceable public lands and Arizona’s precious water supply,” said Russ McSpadden, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re grateful for Rep. Grijalva’s tireless advocacy to protect Oak Flat from the greed of international mining interests. Congress and President Biden must safeguard this holy place for future generations.”
“We applaud Congressman Grijalva and the original co-sponsors for introducing a new bill to repeal section 3003 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015,” said Roger Featherstone, Director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition. “This midnight rider should never have been enacted as it is bad for Arizona, and bad for the Nation. The new bill is even more critical now as Arizona simply does not have enough water for the irresponsible foreign-owned mine proposal which would destroy Oak Flat, a sacred recreational and ecological haven.”
“As a Baptist Christian, I am a proud supporter of the Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act,” said Amanda Tyler, executive director of Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “Sacred land without a steeple is no less deserving of protection than a big, steepled church in the heart of downtown. Too often the U.S. has failed when given opportunities to protect the religious freedom of our Indigenous neighbors. This is a chance to get it right and make the promise of the First Amendment a little truer for us all. Let’s pass the Save Oak Flat from Foreign Mining Act!”