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Effort to Repeal Apache Land Swap Underway

Effort to Repeal Apache Land Swap Underway
June 22
11:22 2015

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill last week to repeal a controversial land swap involving sacred Apache lands.

The new law – known as Section 3003 – was slipped into a national defense bill last December, and it authorized a transfer of federal land to a foreign-controlled company that planned to build a huge copper mine at Oak Flat, Ariz.


Rep. Raul Grijalva

This sparked a protest from the San Carlos tribe and other Apache nations because the land the government was handing over is considered sacred by the tribes.

Tribal members and their allies are camping at Oak Flat, hoping to protect the land from development.

“The land exchange has impacts on many components but what they all tie to is theft,” Wendsler Nosie Sr., a council member and former chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe said in an opinion piece for the website “The taking of property without the laws that apply normally. Isn’t that called stealing? And what is bad is that this theft has been approved by the U.S. government.”

The majority of Arizona’s congressional delegation strongly supported Section 3003, which was conveniently tucked into the 1,648-page defense bill.

Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick were both for it, as they prepare to square off for McCain’s senate seat in 2016. Their support for the mine could be an issue for Native voters in the campaign.

Another backer is Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who was criticized for referring to Indians as “wards” of the federal government. Gosar refused to apologize for the comment.

Although Native Americans were considered wards of the government in many treaties, that era ended when the Indian Citizenship Act became law in 1924.

But one Arizona lawmaker was willing to stand in support of the Apaches.

“What this unpopular corporate giveaway was doing in the national security bill is anyone’s guess, and we shouldn’t wait any longer to repeal it,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, (D-Arizona) said in a press release. He introduced the H.R. 2811 on June 17. “Congress shouldn’t be in the business of helping big corporations at others’ expense, and it certainly shouldn’t break faith with Native American communities.”

Grijalva’s bill has 14 co-sponsors, 11 Democrats and three Republicans. Among them are Oklahoma Representatives Tom Cole (R) and Markwayne Mullin (R), the only two members of federally recognized tribes in Congress.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said she was “profoundly disappointed” by the land swap. However President Barack Obama signed the defense bill – including the land swap provision – into law.

More than 100,000 people signed a petition objecting to the swap, but the White House remains unswayed. The Obama administration promised to work with the mining company to address concerns about the sacred site.

Although Section 3003 requires consultation of tribes that will be affected by the mine, it allows the swap to go through no matter how strong the tribes object.

Section 3003 only requires Resolution Copper, a company controlled by foreign corporations, to come up with “mutually acceptable measures” to address the impacts to the sacred sites.

Nearly every tribe in Arizona opposes the mine. It affects land used for food and medicinal gathering, as well as for ceremonies, including coming-of-age rites that were held as recently as October 2014.

Grijalva’s bill, known as the Save Oak Flats Act, was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

A hearing has not been scheduled.

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