Lee Allen
Oak Flat, a sacred place for the Apache, was supposed to be protected forever from mining as part of the Tonto National Forest, but a rider on the National Defense Authorization Bill nullified that.

We Want to Talk: Resolution Copper Breaks Silence Over Land Swap

Lee Allen

Amid protests and allegations of corruption surrounding a recent land swap that made sacred Apache land vulnerable to copper mining, the company in question has been mum.

But recently an executive with Resolution Copper, which managed to secure 2,400 acres of sacred Apache land under which lie ore deposits, sat down with Indian Country Today Media Network. He said that far from being aloof, the company has been rebuffed in its attempts to connect with the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona.

“I think the public’s understanding is that no dialogue has taken place, and that’s not the case,” said Resolution Copper Project Director Andrew Taplin in an exclusive interview. “I have written and personally spoken with current San Carlos Chairman Terry Rambler and former Chairman Wendsler Nosie Sr., encouraging dialogue. A number of opportunities have been offered up, including the most recent, when the chief executive of our parent company visited Arizona and extended an invitation for Chairman Rambler and he to meet, and that invitation was not responded to.”

Some discussions are taking place with other neighboring tribes and non-Natives, as well as “some members of the San Carlos Apache tribe who understand the benefits associated with the project,” said Taplin. “We held an open forum on the reservation a few weeks ago with 50 tribal members engaging in healthy dialogue for over three hours.”

Another session is planned in the next few weeks, he said. Meanwhile, the company is safeguarding Apache Leap and the Oak Flat campground, where protesters have been staying since the land-swap rider, attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, was passed in February.

“We listened very carefully to the concerns of the San Carlos Apache tribe prior to the passage of the land exchange bill and addressed those concerns to the fullest extent possible,” said Taplin. “Ongoing access to the campground will continue as long as it is safe to do so, and we expect access will continue for a number of decades. Another concern was for adequate protection of Apache Leap, so 800 acres have been put into permanent protection status, and we’ve foregone any of our mineral rights in that area.”

He said the company continues to welcome any and all discussion.

“Despite the fact that we have not been able to have a rich engagement of dialogue, we listened very carefully to Chairman Rambler’s Washington testimony to ensure the concerns of the tribe are being addressed,” Taplin said.

RELATED: San Carlos Apache Leader Seeks Senate Defeat of Copper Mine on Sacred Land

San Carlos Apache Leader: ‘What Was a Struggle to Protect Our Most Sacred Site Is Now a Battle’

Taplin actually did not see the two sides as opposed—it could work out in both parties’ favor, he said.

“This is often framed as ‘it’s either one or the other,’ but my view is with some constructive dialogue and understanding of the issues getting talked through, we could actually have both,” he said, referring to preservation of the holy lands even in the face of a mine. “This can be a wonderful project of benefit to many, done in a manner respectful of tribes that have traditionally used that land. I believe you can have respect for development of a project like this one and still have careful consideration of the religious and cultural concerns the San Carlos Apache tribe has.”


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