Resources, Green - Apache Land Designated A Historic Place
A few lawmakers in the US state of Arizona are upset over the National Park Service's decision to add the Oak Flat Campground to the National Register of Historic Places because of its historic and spiritual ties to the Apache indigenous community. It just so happens that Resolution mining - part-owned by BHP Billiton - wants to dig a giant copper mine there.
Putting Oak Flat on the list of the United States' historic places could damage stall or stop the the plan to construct a copper mine on the land, but only because of the additional public awareness it generates. Legally, nothing "guarantees that a historic property cannot be modified or even destroyed," according to a letter written by Stephanie Toothman, the National Register's keeper.
Representatives Paul Gosar and Ann Kirkpatrick, a Republican and Democrat respectively, both backed privatizing the land to hand it over to Resolution. If their plan goes through, it would be the first time in history that Native American lands would be handed over to a foreign company by an act of Congress. Gosar in particular denies that the site has long been used for Apache coming-of-age ceremonies, particularly for girls.
"Clearly, the Obama Administration cares more about pandering to extremist environmental groups and a DC lobbyist from the Clinton Administration than following the law and listening to the American public," said a statement from Gosar, who totally isn't upset because America's first Black president is doing something decent for the long-abused indigenous community.
But despite Gosar's baseless denials, scientists for the Society for American Archaeology testified before Congress that archaeological evidence of Apache occupation at Oak Flat and use of the site go back before recorded history.
"Oak Flat, known to us Chi'chil Bildagoteel, has always been our connection to our Mother, our right to exist, a central part of our prayers, songs, stories and spiritual practices. It is from here that we emerged. It is who we are," said San Carlos Apache elder Wendsler Nosie Sr. "Chi'chil Bildagoteel, our holy land, was put under the care of the US government, and because of its uniqueness, the great value of maintaining its ecological and cultural integrity, protected by its laws."
The listing means that during the pre-mining environmental-review process, stakeholders will have to thoroughly evaluate the impact on the historic site, which could delay the mine. And Apaches who've seen their land reduced in size generation after generation aren't expecting much from the historic designation.
"It doesn’t have any teeth," said 75-year old Vincent Randall, an elder with the Yavapai-Apache Nation. "It's a victory maybe in that more people will understand this is a special place. But as far as the designation, it’s not stopping the mine."
The mine's economic benefits are also worth consideration, says Resolution, which is co-owned by Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.
"We have also heard from many Native American employees and contractors that work with Resolution Copper, who have told us of the desperate need for economic development and jobs in the Copper Triangle," said spokesman Bill Tanner.