MAC: Mines and Communities

Arizona tribes unite against mine

Published by MAC on 2007-06-21

Arizona tribes unite against mine

J. Craig Anderson, Tribune

21st June 2007

American Indians from several Arizona tribes set aside centuries-old differences to speak in unison Wednesday against a plan to mine copper underneath land that San Carlos Apache leaders say has been part of their religious and cultural activities since time immemorial.

But San Carlos tribal council Chairman Wendsler Nosie isn't expecting unity among the tribes to keep government and copper mining interests at bay. That's why the tribe has hired a Scottsdale lawyer and plans to fight for the 3,000 acres of Tonto National Forest subject to a proposed federal land exchange with Resolution Copper Mining, the Arizona joint subsidiary of Britain's Rio Tinto and Australia's BHP Billiton.

"This has unified the tribes to start defending the land," Nosie said. "We're looking forward to the days to come."

A protest and blessing ceremony on Wednesday at Oak Flat campground near Superior drew about 300 American Indians from six tribes and their supporters — an event that tribal leaders say has not happened in Arizona's modern history.

The mining company's plan for Superior involves opening the most productive copper mine in North America and pumping 1.8 billion gallons of treated wastewater from previous mining operations into an irrigation district between Florence and Queen Creek. Culling pure copper from the new mine's underground ore deposit would require an additional 6.5 billion gallons of water each year.

The proposed mine "is exclusively driven by the need to obtain the greatest profit for its mostly foreign shareholders," according to a joint resolution addressed to President Bush and signed Wednesday by leaders of the San Carlos Apache, White Mountain Apache, Camp Verde Yavapai Apache, Tonto Apache, Hopi and Hualapai tribes.

The protest is specifically focused on a congressional proposal, HR6373, which would exchange 3,000 acres of national forest for 5,200 acres owned by Resolution Copper. Company President John Rickus has promised to set aside the area's most significant tribal landmark, a towering escarpment known as Apache Leap, as a conservation area.

Rickus attended Wednesday's ceremony and invited American Indian leaders to meet with him to discuss their concerns. He has repeatedly stressed his company's commitment to protecting the local environment and the cultural activities of its residents.

But some protest speakers, such as Hopi Vice Chairman Todd Honyaoma, expressed a deep-seated distrust of white government and industry that transcends any one mining project or congressional action. "My grandfather told me, 'One of these days … they're going to come in and take the land,' " Honyaoma said. "Very scary, what's going on."

Scottsdale attorney Joe Sparks, hired by the San Carlos Apache Tribe to handle land preservation cases, said his clients have several legal avenues at their disposal to fight the proposed land exchange.

"There's many kinds of actions, and we intend to take 'em all," Sparks said. "This is the aboriginal territory of the Apaches."

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