Manataka American Indian Council

Proudly Presents




Copper Profits vs. Sacred Sites, Round 3


On June 17, Representative Raul Grijalva (AZ) introduced H.R. 2811 to repeal a section of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that traded a Native American sacred site in Southeast Arizona to a copper mining company. (See related story, Copper Profits vs. Sacred Sites, Round 2.) Fourteen co-sponsors joined Representative Grijalva on this bill, which is called the “Save Oak Flats Act.”

The bill includes a succinct summary of the amendment to the NDAA and its impact on tribes in the area:

“Congress finds as follows: 7 (1) Section 3003 of the ... National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (Public Law 113–291) authorizes approximately 2422 acres of Forest Service land known as ‘‘Oak Flat’’ in the Tonto National Forest in Southeastern Arizona that is sacred to Indian tribes in the region, including the San Carlos Apache Tribe and the Yavapai-Apache Nation, to be transferred to a mining company called Resolution Copper. That company plans to hold the Forest land privately for a mining project that will result in the physical destruction of tribal sacred areas and deprive American Indians from practicing their religions, ceremonies, and other traditional practices.

The mining project will also create significant negative environmental impacts by destroying the area and depleting and contaminating precious water resources.

(2) Once Resolution Copper owns the Oak Flat area, it plans to use the highly destructive block cave mining method to remove one cubic mile of ore that is now 7,000 feet beneath the surface of the earth without replacing any of the earth removed because that is the cheapest form of mining. Resolution Copper admits that the surface will subside and ultimately collapse, destroying forever this place of worship.”

Rep. Grijalva’s bill also recites the flawed process that led to the adoption of this controversial trade. Although the original bill authorizing this transfer (H.R. 687) had been brought up for debate and vote twice in the House, it was withdrawn each time for lack of sufficient support. The Senate’s version of the bill (S. 339) had never been considered on the Senate floor, or even marked up in committee.

The Apache Stronghold, mostly members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, traveled 2,000 miles from Arizona to Washington, D.C. for a protest at the U.S. Capitol on July 22, 2015.


The federal government “has a trust responsibility acknowledged by Congress to protect tribal sacred areas on Federal lands. These laws require meaningful consultations with affected Indian tribes before making decisions that will impact American Indians,” the bill states. The land-swap attached in the final hours of debate on the National Defense Authorization Act violated the trust responsibility and applicable laws, with no prior consultation with affected tribes. In fact, tribes in Arizona and across the country were vehement and vocal in opposition to this deal.

As a matter of religious freedom, honored and protected for all in our Constitution, this deal should be repealed.

You can help: Send a note of thanks to Rep. Grijalva and the other sponsors of this legislation, if one of them is your representative: Tom Cole (OK), Markwayne Mullin (OK), Walter Jones (NC), Betty McCollum (MN), Norma Torres (CA), Patrick Murphy (FL), Alcee Hastings (FL), Ben Rey Lujan (NM) , Raul Ruiz (CA), Jared Polis (CO), Tony Cardenas (CA), Xavier Becerra (CA), Ruben Gallego (CA), Gwen Moore (WI). If your representative has not co-sponsored H.R. 2811, send him or her a note encouraging them to be on the right side of history on this issue.