Citing Religious Freedom, Native Americans Fight to Take Back Sacred Land from Mining Companies

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The Apache Native American tribe has viewed Oak Flat as a holy, sacred place and now they are doing all they can to keep the land from becoming a proposed site for a massive copper mining project. “We’re going to win this fight.”

For generations, members of the Apache Native American tribe have viewed Oak Flat as a holy, sacred place. Located about an hour due east of Phoenix, Arizona, the land has long served as a site for traditional acorn gatherings, burial services, and rite of passage ceremonies for young women. The flat is tucked inside Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, and has historically been protected by the federal government.

“It’s our sacred land — it’s where we come to pray,” Carrie Sage Curley, an Apache woman, told ThinkProgress.

But last year, the land quietly became something else: A proposed site for a massive copper mining project spearheaded by Resolution Copper, an organization run by two multinational corporations based in the United Kingdom and Australia.

The aggressive mining operation resulted from a last-minute addition to the National Defense Authorization Act, a “must-pass” military spending bill pushed through in December 2014. The language, which was inserted at the 11th hour by Arizona Senators John McCain (R) and Jeff Flake (R), essentially traded Resolution 2,400 acres of Arizona (including Oak Flat) in exchange for 5,300 acres of private land they already own. The swap is believed to be one of the first instances of federal land being given to a foreign corporation.

We protect these temples, why can’t we do the same for our sacred land?

Arizona’s Native American population was outraged by the deal, having fought against several efforts by Republicans in Congress to broker similar agreements over the years. Some locals have argued that the land grab shortchanges American taxpayers, since profits will go primarily to companies rooted outside the United States. In addition, environmentalists and the Apache people have repeatedly expressed fears that, since the mining industry is often exempt from portions of environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, the invasive copper mining project could damage the area’s water — a resource many Native Americans claim a spiritual obligation to protect.

Read more at NationofChange.


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