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Senate expected to approve defense bill for mine on sacred lands

This image shows the area above Surprise, Arizona, where the Resolution Copper mine would be built. The area includes Oak Flat, Apache Leap and other sites used by Apache tribes for food, medicine and ceremonies. Image from SkyTruth / Google Maps

The Senate is expected to pass the controversial National Defense Authorization Act this week.

The text of the 1,648-page package was released last Tuesday. The House voted 300-119 to pass the bill on Thursday even though some lawmakers admitted they hadn't read it in its entirety.

Several provisions that have nothing to do with defense or the military are drawing criticism from conservative commentators who say the vote violated the Republican party's Pledge to America. Lawmakers said they wouldn't vote on bills without at least three days notice and wouldn't insert unrelated language into "must-pass" legislation.

Rep. Jim Lankford (R-Oklahoma), who will be serving in the Senate in the next session of Congress, told Slate that the process by which the bill was considered was "just ridiculous." However, even he voted in favor of the measure.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Arizona) was one of just 87 Democrats who voted for the bill. That's because it authorizes a controversial land swap that she and members of the state's Congressional delegation support.

" I urge the Senate to pass it and the president to sign it so we can get the job done for Arizona," Kirkpatrick, who won re-election last month with the help of Indian voters, said in a press release.

Section 3003 authorizes the federal government to transfer 2,400 acres in the Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper. The company will use the land for a mine that will affect sacred food, medicine and ceremonial sites.

The bill requires the Department of Agriculture to consult with Apache tribes before the land swap is finalized. However, those talks will be effectively meaningless because nearly every tribe in Arizona has already adopted positions in opposition to the mine.

Even if USDA takes into account the tribal opposition, the land swap will still go through. It only requires Resolution Copper to come up with "mutually acceptable measures" to address the impacts to the sacred sites.

“I don’t like our ancestral lands being raided by the U.S. Congress," Phil Stago, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, told Kirkpatrick and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona), who also supports the mine, at a roundtable on Friday, The Arizona Daily Sun reported.

Gosar told Stago that there is no documentation that shows the land is sacred to the Apache people, the paper reported. He also said tribes are "still wards of the federal government," according to the paper.

A petition on whitehouse.gov to oppose the "land grab" has garnered about 7,800 signatures as of this morning.

Get the Story:
Jewell ‘profoundly’ disappointed by land exchange at sacred Native American sites (The Washington Post 12/6)
Interior secretary disappointed at land swap in Defense bill (The Hill 12/6)
U.S. Reps discuss land, mining, forests (The Arizona Daily Sun 12/6)
House Vote to Pass NDAA Violates GOP's 2010 Pledge to America (Breitbart 12/7)

Related Stories:
House approves bill to authorize mine on sacred site in Arizona (12/4)
Apache Messenger: Younger generation returns to sacred site (10/10)
San Carlos Apache Tribe testifies against land swap measure (11/21)
Tribal lobbying halts measure for copper mine by sacred site (11/14)
Ex-Rep. Rick Renzi sentenced to three years in corruption case (10/29)
Editorial: Respect tribe's concerns about mine near sacred site (10/16)
House takes up bill to authorize copper mine near sacred site (9/26)

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