Apache Tribe Attempt To Block Plans For Copper Mine On Sacred Site

In the final days of the Trump presidency, the US Government handed over Oak Flat, or Chi’chil Bildagoteel as it is known to the Apache people, to two of the largest mining cooperations in the world, BHP and Rio Tinto.

Known as a popular site for camping and hiking, Oak Flat is situated within the Tonto National Forest, an hour east of Phoenix, just outside the small mining town of Superior, Arizona.

Oak Flat is considered sacred to the Apache and other Native people and is still used for ceremonies, habitation, sustenance, serving as a home to a diverse array of wildlife, including endangered birds, plants, and fish.

The joint mining venture, named Resolution Copper, will be the largest copper mine in North America and will employ over 4,000 people, including 2,000 people of the Pinal County. As proposed, the mine will be two kilometres underground and is expected to bring tens of billions in economic benefits to the region.

However, the non-profit organisation Apache Stronghold, led by former Apache tribe chairman Wendsler Nosie, has filed several lawsuits in an attempt to pause the land transfer. If unsuccessful, thousands of acres in the Tonto National Forest will be handed over.

Picture: @ProtectOakFlat/Twitter).

Apache Stronghold filed the lawsuit on January 12 stating the impending land transfer “violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Apaches’ constitutional rights to religious freedom, due process; and petition and remedy, and is a breach of trust and fiduciary duties”.

According to the lawsuit, the Trump administration also violated federal law by failing to evaluate the risks associated with Resolution Copper and its potential to destroy not only Apache heritage, but also to pollute water and further endanger already endangered plants and wildlife species.

Randy Serragilo, a spokesperson and conservation advocate for the Centre for Biological Diversity, says mining would destroy Oak Flat and will cause runoff that could contaminate downstream aquifers.

In addition, Apache Stronghold filed an emergency lien on the land which asks for the right to retain possession of the land by its original owners.

Superior’s Mayor, Mila Besich, who is also executive director of the Copper Corridor Economic Development Coalition, says “mining will always be part of our economic DNA”, but she goes on to assure those concerned that the town has taken the appropriate steps to work with Resolution Copper and protect the sacred land.

Rio Tinto has a questionable history within the mining industry. Just last year, the company destroyed a rock shelter at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia, a 46,000-year-old sacred site. Outrage ensued, with several high-profile employees stepping down, including the CEO, who has since apologised to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.

If the Resolution Copper mine goes ahead, it will eventually collapse, creating a crater that will dump 1.4 billions of toxic waste on thousands of acres of nearby land.

A hearing for a preliminary injunction will take place February 3.

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About Katelyn Ludewigs 18 Articles
After completing her bachelor's degree in screen culture at Griffith University, Katelyn followed her passion for the arts and has written several scripts for both screen and stage. When she isn't writing fictive absurdity, Katelyn enjoys writing about the big, wide, round (or flat?) world. Katelyn is completing her master's degree in writing and literature at Deakin University.