July 28, 2015

Sacred Apache Land Under Attack

LPLP Staff

Native American sacred sites are guaranteed protection under the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act—or at least they were. For the last sixty years, the sacred Apache site in Arizona, Oak Flat, has been off-limits for mining activities, until a recent violation of federal law was signed on New Year’s Eve 2014.

A section snuck into the annual, must-pass National Defense Authorization Act by Congressmen John McCain and Jeff Flake allows Australian mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton to desecrate this land for copper.

Used for generations by the Apache Nation for prayer, worship, and in young women’s coming-of-age ceremonies, the spiritual Oak Flats is being threatened. Members of the San Carlos Apache Nation marched from their reservation in Arizona to the lawn of the Capitol building in Washington, DC last Wednesday to protest Congress’ betrayal.

Their voices are matched with a legislation introduced in June, which is attempting to prevent the ruinous appropriation of the Oak Flats. It has received support from the National Congress of American Indians and tribes throughout the country.

Congressman Raul Grijalva, the bill’s author, told the Huffington Post he is concerned of landing a hearing for the bill on account of Congressman Don Young, the chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, being hostile to Native rights.

During a hearing in May, Young promoted limiting, possibly eliminating, the federal recognition of tribes by using threatening tones and outbursts one would expect from a five-year-old being dragged to get a hair cut. Regardless, Grijalva and Native American activists plan to halt this violation of federal law from taking effect.

The sale of the Oak Flats disregards President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1955 decree and the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and sets a precedent for Congress to allow big business to undermine Native rights and federal law in exchange for profit. Congress’ blessing of this pillaging will allow similar violations to occur throughout Indian country unless it is stopped.
The Lakota People’s Law Project fully supports the San Carlos Apache Nation’s efforts and Raul Grijalva’s bill.