In October 2014, 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

White House responds to petition against mine at sacred site

The White House has responded to a petition that opposes a huge copper mine on sacred Apache lands in Arizona.

Jodi Gillette, the Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs, said the Obama administration opposed Section 3003 of the National Defense Authorization Act, the law that authorizes a land swap for the Resolution Copper mine. She quoted a statement by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who was "profoundly disappointed" by the controversial provision.

"The provision short circuits the long-standing and fundamental practice of pursuing meaningful government-to-government consultation with the 566 federally recognized tribes with whom we have a unique legal and trust responsibility," Jewell said in the statement after President Barack Obama signed the bill into law last month.

Although Section 3003 requires consultation of tribes that will be affected by the mine, it allows the swap to go through no matter how strong the objections. It only requires Resolution Copper to come up with "mutually acceptable measures" to address the impacts to the sacred sites.

"Moving forward, the administration will work with Rio Tinto (Resolution Copper's parent company) to determine what can be done to work with the tribes to preserve these sacred areas," Gillette said in the response to the White House petition, which drew more than 104,000 signatures.

Nearly every tribe in Arizona opposes the mine. It affects sites used by Apache tribes for food and medicinal gathering and for ceremonies, including coming-of-age rites that were held as recently as last October.

"This land exchange was opposed by many people across the United States and outside of the United States even though it was decided on by only a few people," Chairman Terry Rambler of the San Carlos Apache Tribe said on Facebook on Sunday. The fight will continue!"

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