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Grijalva Says Tribes Need R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Grijalva Says Tribes Need R-E-S-P-E-C-T
July 24
08:36 2015
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Raul Grijalva

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said Congress needs to work on rebuilding trust with Native American tribes. And that starts with showing some respect, he wrote in a guest column for Indian Country Today.

Grijalva, from Arizona’s 3rd District, explained why he introduced H.R. 2811, the Save Oak Flat Act, to prevent a mining company from destroying a site sacred to the San Carlos Apache tribe.

“Perhaps most egregiously, last year’s National Defense Authorization Act – a bill President Obama could not have easily vetoed – included a shameful provision mandating a land swap long favored by a mining firm called Resolution Copper, which is co-owned by multinational conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, at the expense of sacred Native American land,” Grijalva wrote.

It wasn’t the first time a bill that was harmful to a tribe was tacked onto an unrelated “must-pass” piece of legislation. In 1996, on the heels of a government shutdown, the late Sen. John Chafee (R-RI) used the same tactic against the Narragansett Indian tribe. Literally in the middle of the night, Chafee added a rider to an omnibus spending bill that had to pass – or close down the government again. Chafee’s rider made the Narragansetts the only federally recognized tribe that wasn’t allowed to pursue gaming through the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Chafee’s underhanded play came after the state repeatedly lost court challenges trying to block an Indian casino in Rhode Island.

The late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told Narragansett leaders at the time that the spending bill had to pass; they promised to revisit the so-called “Chafee Rider” at a later date. Inouye has since died. The Narragansett Tribe is still waiting for the Chafee Rider to be repealed. As for Grijalva, he has long championed environmental issues. He has also called for mining reform. For years, Resolution sought access to a copper deposit in eastern Arizona, Grijalva noted. The site, Oak Flat, has been home to the San Carlos Apache Nation’s traditional acorn and medicinal herb collecting and religious ceremonies for centuries, he added. Oak Flat includes some of the Apache nation’s most important cultural and historic land, and is near an especially sacred mountain called Apache Leap, where warriors jumped to their deaths rather than allowing themselves to be captured by pursuing U.S. cavalry.

“For the San Carlos Apache, few sites have equal importance,” Grijalva explained. “They fear Apache Leap will collapse or be damaged by the intensive block cave mining Resolution proposes.”

But the tribe’s concerns were ignored by lawmakers, according to Grijalva. In the last Congress, Republican House leaders had to cancel a vote on a bill forcing the Forest Service to trade the land to Resolution due to lack of support.

“Undeterred, Arizona’s Republican senators snuck a swap provision into the defense bill knowing it would not be easy to remove – or easy for President Obama to reject,” Grijalva said. “Now the San Carlos Apache are facing the imminent prospect of permanent damage to this sacred site. The line on treating Indian Country with disrespect has to be drawn.”

Grijalva introduced the bipartisan Save Oak Flat Act on June 17. The bill would repeal the clandestine land trade while leaving the defense law intact.

“It’s one fight I can truly say I’m proud to lead,” Grijalva added.

Tribes across the country voice frustration with Congress, believing the government does not take their sovereignty seriously. Ignores trust and treaty responsibilities and fails to protect Native American historical treasures.

“Unfortunately, much of this is based not on legitimate political differences but on a prevailing attitude that Native American history is important only when it is convenient,” Grijalva wrote. “Native American economic interests are secondary and Native American land is held by tribes only through the grace and favor of the federal government.”

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