Congress passes bill with mine on sacred Apache land in Arizona

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 passed the National Defense Authorization Act on Friday despite outcry from Indian Country over a controversial provision that authorizes a mine on sacred Apache lands in Arizona.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), a former member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee who is leaving Congress this year, tried to remove the land swap and other non-military provisions from the 1,648-page package. But only 18 lawmakers -- all Republicans -- supported his effort.

Speaking on the floor before the vote, Coburn said the bill "represents the worst of Washington because what we have added to a must-pass bill are measures that are very low priority in terms of the long-term priorities of the country and fiscal soundness of the country, but are really high priorities for the politicians in this body."

With Coburn's motion out of the way, the bill easily cleared by the chamber by a 89 to 11 vote. Having passed the House last week, it now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.

In October, Nizhoni Pike, a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, held a coming-of-age ceremony in an area that will be affected by the land swap and the Resolution Copper mine. Photo by Anna Jeffrey for The Apache Messenger

The controversial land swap is found in Section 3003 of the bill. It authorizes the federal government to transfer 2,400 acres in the Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper, a company controlled by two multi-billion dollar foreign corporations.

The company will use the land for a mine that affects sacred Apache food, medicinal and ceremonial sites. Although the bill requires consultation of affected tribes, it allows the swap to go through no matter how strong the objections.

"We will not give up our fight!" Chairman Terry Rambler of the San Carlos Apache Tribe said on Facebook yesterday.

A petition on to stop the land swap has exploded in interest in the last week. It had nearly 95,000 signatures as of this morning.

Get the Story:
Congress OKs massive copper mine in Pinal Co. (AP 12/13)
Resolution Copper deal elicits celebration, outrage (The Arizona Daily Star 12/13)
Congress approves colossal Ariz. copper mine (The Arizona Republic 12/13)
Defense Bill Passes, Giving Sacred Native American Sites To Mining Company (The Huffington Post 12/12)
Prehistoric burial site found near Superior (The Arizona Daily Star 12/12)

Some Opinions:
Scott Martelle Defense bill includes ill-advised Alaska and Arizona land measures (The Los Angeles Times 12/12)
Samuel Vargo: Sticking a sneaky swap of Apache land in a 1,600-page defense bill isn't a law, it's larcency! (OpEdNews 12/12)

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