Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate passed a measure that gives lands sacred to Native Americans to a foreign company that owns a uranium mine with Iran. It slid through the Senate by a vote of 89 to 11 under the umbrella of the $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act of 2015. As usual, lawmakers used the defense bill as a Trojan horse to pass a massive public lands package.
In the tech age, we’re all copper addicts. Without copper, you wouldn’t be watching this film right now.
This is just one of many earnestly delivered and thought provoking lines in a video entitled, “Why Arizona’s Oak Flat Deserves Continued Protection From Copper Mining”. Our addiction to copper makes it clear why it is so difficult to be completely objective on this matter, that matter being the continued preservation of Arizona’s Oak Flat: a sacred land to the San Carlos Apache Tribe.
Another barrier to objectivity is the labeling of the land as sacred. What one holds sacred, another may hold quite common. The Judeo-Christian U.S. majority tends to have little interest in Native American religious mythology. This lack of shared foundational stories induces much eye-rolling on both sides when one plays the religious card by declaring a thing sacred.
But there is more to this dispute than irreconcilable, religious differences of opinion. There is a legal basis for the San Carlos Apache claim. The 2,400 acres was set aside by President Dwight D. Eisenhower specifically to be protected from copper mining.
There is also a strong, ecological case to be made for preserving the land. Bluenationreview.com reports:
On top of that, the tribe says that the methods used to mine the area, a technique called block cave mining, poses a huge risk for cave-ins and landslides, potentially damaging the site and wildlife.
Copper Is the New Gold
The corporate and political Golden Rule is, whoever has the gold makes the rules. In this case, that would be Resolution Mining Inc.: an International copper mining corporation. It is unclear what leverage this corporation has in this matter. But it requires little imagination to picture how this arrangement might benefit the politicians involved.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is being used to force the tribe to swap this valuable average for a useless swath of land, though it be more than double the size. BNR adds:
Native Americans have long been victims of corporate greed, as we saw with the Keystone XL Pipeline in which the Lakota barely managed to fight off the pipeline from bisecting their Sacred Treaty Lands.
Despite our history in such matters, the sacred claim, and the Eisenhower law, copper is more precious than gold in this technological age. And our addiction to copper may finally win the day when the dust is cleared.
The Oak Flat area stands to lose more than a sense of sacredness and presidential protection. The area is a tourist attraction, and is vital for the sustained, economic solvency of the region. If the land exchange goes through, the tribe believes it will do little to employ local people. Furthermore, adding a new mine to an already heavily mined region will add to the subsidence. According to inside.mines.edu:
Subsidence or the sinking of the ground surface due to mining starts with the removal of coal from underground (Figure 1). Gravity and the weight of the overlaying rock causes the layers of rock to shift and sink downward into the void left by the removal of coal. Ultimately, this process can affect the surface, causing the ground to sag and crack and holes to form, which may severely damage or destroy residences. A few inches of differential subsidence beneath a residential structure can cause several thousand dollars worth of damage.
Finally, BNR reports that San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler expressed his commitment to “faith in the power of prayer” to “help guide us through…” But he also acknowledges the need for a lot more than that. He knows it will take “a grassroots effort and a lot of awareness in the public eye to see our side of the story.” At the time of this writing, the matter is unresolved.