Oak Flat Is Sacred — Not A Sacrifice Zone
The Trump administration is rushing to turn Indigenous peoples’ sacred lands into a vast, earth-scarring mine.
Don’t let the Trump administration turn it into a vast copper mine.
In its waning days, the Trump administration is rushing to transfer thousands of acres of Arizona public lands that are holy to the Apache and other Tribes so a copper company can develop a vast, Earth-scarring mine. And not just any copper company: One of Resolution Copper’s parent companies, Rio Tinto, is responsible for the destruction of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site in Australia.
Rio Tinto promised to change its ways. But the Apache, along with their Native and non-Native allies, have serious doubts that this project can be done in a way that respects their cultural and religious heritage or the ecology of the site.
The Apache have held religious and cultural ceremonies on Oak Flat for centuries. It’s home to Apache burial grounds, sacred sites, petroglyphs, medicinal plants, and traditional foods. According to the Forest Service’s own environmental impact report, the proposed mine has a “high potential … to directly, adversely, and permanently affect … places and experiences of high spiritual and other value to tribal members.”
After even a cursory look at the project, it’s obvious why: The mine would create a crater roughly two miles wide and 1,000 feet deep — so deep, you could stack three Statues of Liberty in it. It would destroy Oak Flat, eliminating the habitat of species that call Oak Flat home, and likely contaminating precious water supplies in drought-prone Arizona. Then there’s the issue of the toxic waste the mine would generate — all 1.4 billion tons of it.
This spiritual site and popular outdoors area should never have been opened up to mining. President Eisenhower issued special protection for the area in 1955, and Congress spent decades shooting down legislation that would have opened Oak Flat to mining. But in 2014, Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, supported by Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, slipped a last-minute rider into the National Defense Authorization Act that transferred Oak Flat and other public lands to Rio Tinto. Perhaps not coincidentally, Flake was a lobbyist for a Rio Tinto subsidiary before becoming a senator, and McCain was then the biggest beneficiary of Rio Tinto’s campaign contributions in Congress.
The organization Apache-Stronghold, as well as its Native and non-Native allies, were resisting attempts to build a mine at Oak Flat even before that backroom deal took place. Now, Apache-Stronghold leader Wendsler Nosie Sr. says, “We were in the fourth quarter with two minutes left in the game. And then Trump cheated so now we only have one minute left. Everybody has to fight this.”
Environmental review on the Oak Flat copper mine was scheduled for completion in December 2021. But it, along with a host of other environmentally destructive projects, has been sped up so that it can be finalized just before President-Elect Biden’s inauguration. Throughout its term, the Trump administration has repeatedly targeted sites sacred to Indigenous peoples — from the Arctic Refuge in Alaska to Native burial sites on the southern border. It’s been eager to sacrifice them to narrow political or financial interests. But we won’t let them make Indigenous nations, holders of 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity, into sacrifice zones.
Now is the time for us to rise in solidarity with the Apache and other Indigenous peoples. Don’t miss their Day of Prayer and Action for Oak Flat Virtual Rally next Monday, December 21.