scale model shows the depth of a pit that mining in Oak Flat
would create resulting in the collapse of the land above it.
The Eiffel Tower and University of Phoenix stadium show scale.
(photo by Kevin Moriarty - Navajo-Hopi Observer reporter)
Carlos Apache elders present Jane Sanders with a shawl at
Oak Flat March 17.
(photo by Kevin Moriarty - Navajo-Hopi Observer reporter)
SUPERIOR, AZ - Jane Sanders, wife of presidential candidate
Bernie Sanders (I- Vermont), visited the Apache Stronghold at Oak
Flat campground, a sacred site to the San Carlos Apache, calling
attention to the fight against a land swap that will allow mining
in the area.
The controversial rider, which circumvented normal legislative
procedures, was attached to the 2015 National Defense Authorization
Act, authorizing approximately 2,422 acres of Forest Service land
known as Oak Flat in the Tonto National Forest in Southeastern Arizona
to be transferred to a mining company called Resolution Copper,
which is a subsidiary of Rio Tinto and BHPBilliton, two of the biggest
metal mining companies in the world, according to Earthworks.
The bill was originally introduced in the House of Representatives
and brought to the floor twice and pulled from consideration both
times. The bill in the Senate was never considered or brought before
the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, (D-Ariz.) has sponsored a bill to remove
the section of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 that
authorized the land swap. Sen. Sanders cosponsored the bill in the
Resolution Copper said the area is one of the world's
largest untapped copper resources and that copper from the proposed
mine will "help wire a rapidly growing world and drive the
new green economy, powering everything from wind turbines to electric
cars," according to its website.
The company plans to use a method of mining called block caving,
which, according to material from Resolution Copper, is a well-established
method used at more than 20 mining operations around the world.
"The ore is blasted, transported and crushed underground,
then conveyed to the surface for further processing," the material
said. "Block caving is safe, environmentally sound and cost
effective for mining a large, deep ore body."
According to the bill sitting in committee in the House of Representatives,
block caving is the cheapest mining method but is highly destructive.
"[Resolution Copper] intends to use [this method] to remove
one cubic mile of ore that is now 7,000 feet beneath the surface
of the Earth without replacing any of the earth removed because
that is the cheapest form of mining," the text reads. "Resolution
Copper admits that the surface will subside and ultimately collapse,
destroying forever this place of worship."
Native American tribes, especially the San Carlos Apache and
the Yavapai-Apache Nation, say the copper mine will result in the
destruction of an area they consider sacred and deprive Native Americans
from practicing their religion, ceremonies and other traditional
practices. In addition, they say the mine will deplete and contaminate
While Resolution Copper has also said the mine will produce
jobs in the area, some area residents like Roy Chavez, former mayor
for Superior and formerly a mine worker, isn't so sure. He now works
for Concerned Citizens for Arizona Mining Reform. He disputes exactly
what those jobs will look like.
"Any number they use, whether it's water, jobs or the revenue
that is going to come in, those are all projections," Chavez
said. "You can't guarantee any of that. There's nothing that
they can guarantee other than the devastation that is going to take
place, the environmental impact. That is a fact."
Chavez has created a model to show the impact of the mine, based
on Resolution Copper's numbers. It shows the area that will cave
in because of subsidence in addition to other impacts.
"When we show the models the company has nothing to say
about them," Chavez said. "[Resolution Cooper] doesn't
talk about the subsidence, they don't talk about the tailings, they
don't talk about the filtration plant. They don't talk about the
process of pulling out the ore. They talk about the money, the jobs
and the opportunities that are just so full of bull***. It just
turns my stomach."
The Apache Stronghold
Since the land swap, the Oak Flat campground has been
occupied by various San Carlos Apache tribal members and other supporters
- and is where Sanders was met by about 100 tribal members and supporters
Jane Sanders said she was honored to be at the Apache Stronghold
and to have been given a tour of the sacred spots in the area. She
assured the crowd that she and her husband will do everything they
can to make sure the area isn't destroyed through Resolution Copper
and copper mining in the area.
"[It was] so generous of you to allow me to come and see
what you have been fighting for," she said. "To be able
to walk up in those hills and see those beautiful sites, archaeological
sites that show where people lived before, where people were buried.
Where your ancestors are still. We could feel their spirit. It's
not just rocks and land and water. We could feel a spiritual connection
President Barack Obama recently listed the area as a historical
preservation site, which Sanders thought would help in stopping
the mining even while the legislation to stop the Oak Flat mining
is stuck in committee right now in both the House and the Senate.
"But this gives a legal opportunity that didn't exist before,"
Sanders said. "What's interesting to hear is that [President
Dwight] Eisenhower did the Oak Flat, he stopped the mining here
and [President Richard] Nixon agreed. So it's good to see Obama
vetting it as a historic preservation. That's strategically very
smart. That had not happened when I decided to do this trip and
we were thinking, 'what can we do?' We were really happy to hear
this beyond the legislation."
Sanders added that water concerns across the country are also
drawing attention and that some of the contaminated water is on
the reservation, with arsenic on Hopi and uranium throughout.
"[Bernie and others] are really fighting to let others
know that we need to address issues in terms of our water, in terms
of our aquifers, in terms of our rising oceans and acidification
of oceans. We need to take care of Mother Earth much better than
we have been doing in this century," she said.
Chavez said there has been talk in articles of how the mine
is the best project in the world, that it is the deepest mine and
it's going to be so great and how the people who constructed the
"It made me sick," he said. "No discussion about
the water, no discussion about the soil and Earth. No discussion
about the air. No discussion about how toxic this project is to
It is those concerns that drive Chavez, a former mine worker,
to oppose the project. While he said there are safer methods of
mining which he might agree with, he is trying to gather support
from environmental groups and people who are concerned about the
economics and others while working with the Apache Stronghold, who
oppose mining altogether.
"We respect and sympathize with the position of the Stronghold,
we understand their position," Chavez said. "We have to
deal a little outside of that box in regards to gaining support
for the opposition. It's important. We are trying to be real in
the sense of how do we get more people on board. I can't speak for
the Apache or represent them in any way, shape or form and I don't.
But I certainly can understand and share that understanding with
Chavez said it was a diverse coalition that defeated the legislation
for a decade. He wants to see that now.
"It took a covert action to get the legislation theoretically
passed," he said. "I don't think this is a time for us
to dissolve our relationships. This is a time we band together hard
to repeal the deal."
Jerry Thomas, a Navajo who is married to a San Carlos
Apache woman, said he was there to support the effort in part because
of his own history. His mother was removed from her home six times
in the land dispute between the Navajo and the Hopi and he said
the coal mine destroyed the water - depleting and pumping water
from Black Mesa to Las Vegas, something he sees happening at Oak
Flat if the land swap is allowed to go forward. Thomas said, especially
on the reservations, water is power and the mining companies are
the worst consumers of water.
"That's my main issue here, is the water," Thomas
said. "Back in the 20s... the government dammed all the rivers
that run through the reservations, if you look at the map, the waters
are collected and diverted away from reservations. They say, 'you're
not a farmer, you're a hunter, you don't need that water.'"
Thomas believes that the Navajo and the Hopi have just as much
stake in what goes on at Oak Flat as they do in trying to protect
other sacred areas closer to home and that they should not take
pure water for granted and let anyone take it away in land settlements.
"It's just as important for the Navajos, the Hopis, the
Zunis, all Native Americans - God created Earth for us in his own
image," Thomas said. "Not meaning, God's got five fingers,
two eyes, a mouth, a nose. No. He made us from the Earth that he
created. The water that makes our body. The mind he has to make
us move. The air we breathe - the air tracks we have right on our
fingers. That is God's creation. We're made in his own image. Have
respect for nature."
Another woman, Angel (she did not want to provide a last name
for privacy), a San Carlos Apache tribal member, said it was important
to preserve what the Apaches have left and that while the boundary
has moved over time, the land she was standing on was Apache land.
"Other tribes have similar issues," she said. "They
have water rights, they have land rights, they have land being taken
away, they have coal mining. We have just got to support one another.
This is just one of the places we go to camp, to ceremony...there's
just a few of these sites on the reservation that we can go to."
While critics have said Oak Flat is just a campground, Angel
said the area has more meaning.
"It is just a campground," she said. "We take
advantage of it while it's here. What it stands for and what it
means. We come here and we use it. There is history behind it. It's
a lot more than that because we know what's behind that. It's a
National Forest and anyone can use it as long as they protect it."
Sanders one on one
Sanders also said the campaign is working on a Native
American platform should Bernie Sanders get elected.
"I said, 'Wait a minute, I'm going out there, I want to
talk to individuals and find out a little bit more before we publish
it,'" she said. "I'm glad I did."
Sanders said her interest comes from realizing that Native Americans
are the stewards of the Earth and they have not been given a fair
deal historically or even in the present.
"I see that as a microcosm of some of the other problems
that are happening in our country," she said. "It seems
when you look at the reservations and you see the things they are
having to deal with are things they are having to deal with in the
inner cities as well, [like being] economically deprived."
She said the question is how to make sure all people can lead
healthy, happy lives.
"It comes down to food, comes down to jobs, comes down
to education and healthcare and we need to focus on those things,"
If there is a Sanders administration, Sanders said she and her
husband look forward to building on the improvements in tribal federal
government relations that the Obamas have built during the last
"We'll build on that progress," Sanders said. "They've
built a very good foundation and they're good people and they care."