Sanders Champions Legislation to Protect Oak Flat

Stephen Fox

Tribes nation-wide and other Americans across the country deeply appreciate Senator Bernie Sanders’ efforts in the U.S. Senate to protect tribal sacred land in Arizona known as Oak Flat, located on U.S. Forest Service land, from destruction by foreign-owned mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton through their U.S. limited liability company Resolution Copper Mining.

Taking on these mining companies and fighting back against the millions of dollars these companies and their allies spent and continue to spend on lobbyists and political contributions, Senator Sanders introduced S. 2242, the Save Oak Flat Act, to correct not only an injustice to Native Americans but also against the American people. This situation is generally unknown to most American citizens. Sanders’ legislation, the Save Oak Flat Act, would repeal Section 3003, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Act (Land Exchange), of the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which would privatize part of the Tonto National Forest and transfer Oak Flat, a sacred area of Apaches and other Native Americans, to Resolution Copper Mining, jointly owned by foreign-owned mining companies BHP Billiton (United Kingdom) and Rio Tinto (Australia), resulting in the destruction of this sacred area. Resolution Copper Mining seeks to develop the largest copper mine in North America on this sacred land that will result in the collapse of an area at least 2 miles in diameter and the destruction of the Oak Flat area.

The Save Oak Flat Act would immediately halt this giveaway of land and natural resources owned by the American people to foreign-owned mining companies. Sanders' bill is cosponsored by New Mexico's Senator Martin Heinrich and Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin.

For centuries, the Oak Flat area in the Tonto National Forest has been considered sacred to Apaches, Yavapais, and other Native Americans. Located about an hour due east of Phoenix, Arizona, this unique and stunningly beautiful land has long played a vital role in Native ceremonies, religion, tradition, and culture.

Oak Flat has always been a place where Native Americans in the region have gone to pray, to conduct ceremonial dances, to gather acorns for sustenance, to collect medicines and ceremonial items, and to seek and obtain peace and personal cleansing.

Public lands, like Oak Flat, are carved out of the ancestral homelands of Indian tribes, and the historical and spiritual connections of Native Americans to these lands have not been extinguished. The United States has legal and moral obligations to provide access to Native Americans and to protect these traditional territories in a manner that respects the cultural, historical and religious importance to Indian tribes.

For over a decade, hundreds of tribal governments, tribal organizations, and hundreds of thousands of individual grassroots activists united in opposition to the Land Exchange to protect these tribal homelands. Because of this staunch opposition, House of Representatives Leadership twice pulled the bill from consideration because it lacked the votes for passage during the 113th Congress. The Senate also refused to advance the bill through regular order.

To circumvent and silence this opposition, Arizona Senator John McCain and Representatives Paul Gosar and Ann Kirkpatrick forced a closed-door deal to attach the Land Exchange as a midnight rider into the NDAA in December 2014.

In addition to the destruction of this place of worship, the Land Exchange will threaten the water quality and water supply of the region. The Tonto National Forest was established in 1905 principally to protect the region’s watershed. However, the Land Exchange will effectively eliminate these protections. Under current plans, the mining operation will require an unsustainable amount of water to operate and leave behind contaminated water affecting the region for generations to come.

If Resolution Copper Mining is allowed to develop the massive mine it seeks on Oak Flat, then it plans to mine the area until it has depleted and contaminated all the resources on the land,  abandoning the area once all the minerals have been extracted, leaving a massive Super Fund site that the tribes and others in the region will be forced to live in. The potential desecration of these lands is nothing you have ever heard a word about from Hillary or any of the Republicans. Without Bernie Sanders' efforts, these Apaches wouldn't have a chance to protect their sacred land, and if Hillary or the Republicans win this election, there will be even more corporate manipulation of government processes.

Senator Sanders stands up for what is right in his efforts to protect Oak Flat and the American people from corporate greed. He has done that consistently and without wavering for the past 40 years. That is what kind of President we need, and that is what kind of President he will be! For media questions, please contact the campaign office ([email protected])

The Bernie Sanders/Save Oak Flats bill situation is so urgent that I must ask you all, even if you have read this before, to please take several specific actions to help Bernie help the San Carlos Apaches defend their sacred land against John McCain's Bill embedded in the Pentagon bill to privatize the Tonto National Forest and turn Oak Flats into a gigantic copper mine. The Republican Senators on the Environment Committee are going to be the ones who decide, so we all need to write to them and pressure on them, asking them to send Bernie's Save Oak Flats bill to the Senate Floor, so it can void and strike out McCain's ghastly bill. At the end of this article, please find a list of the Republican Senators to whom to write, and I pray that you will share this widely, as most Americans have no idea about McCain's plan, and even for those who don't particularly care what happens to the Apaches, the principle of privatizing National Forests is horrifying and wrong.

US Senate Republican Majority on the Environment Committee:

James M. Inhofe (Chairman)--Oklahoma

David Vitter—Louisiana

John Barrasso--Wyoming

Shelley Moore Capito—West Virginia

Mike Crapo--Idaho

John Boozman--Arkansas

Jeff Sessions—Alabama

Roger F. Wicker--Mississippi

Deb Fischer--Nebraska

Mike Rounds—South Dakota

Dan Sullivan—Alaska

Their briefest address is: The United States Senate, Washington D.C. 20510

Stephen Fox has been selling Native painting and ledger art in Santa Fe since 1980. His consumer protection writing is focused on ridding the market of aspartame, the neurotoxic artificial sweetener.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page