10/13/2011 Gallup Independent: Tribe: Public lands threatened by copper, uranium mining

10/13/2011 Tribe: Public lands threatened by copper, uranium mining By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: WINDOW ROCK – Representatives of the San Carlos Apache Tribe received support Tuesday from Navajo Nation Council delegates in their opposition to a bill which would allow a subsidiary of foreign mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton to acquire more than 2,400 acres in Tonto National Forest for a massive underground copper mine. U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.-1, is sponsor of H.R. 1904: Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011. The land exchange would require Congress to lift a decades old mining ban within the 760 acres of federal lands known as Oak Flat, which were set aside from mining in 1955 by executive order of the Eisenhower administration.

Impacts from the mining operation will result in the “wholesale desecration of the sacred site and traditional cultural property that is encompassed by the Oak Flat, Apache Leap, and Gaan Canyon area,” San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler stated in written testimony submitted in June to the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

“Chich’il Bildagoteel,” or Oak Flat, is home to all powerful Mountain Spirits, or Gaan, and a place of ancient settlements and burial sites. Because the Apache people’s relationship to the land is intertwined with their religious and cultural identity, it is believed “the potential harms to be visited upon this holy place threaten the cultural extinction of the Apache.”

Steve Titla, San Carlos general counsel, and Susan B. Montgomery, special legal counsel to the tribe, presented Chairman Rambler’s concerns to the Nabik’iyati’ Committee. Rambler was in D.C. to meet with Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., on the mining issue to ask him not to hold a hearing on the bill when it comes to his committee, Montgomery said.

“We should be sending a strong message to Representative Gosar, saying, ‘You’re not going to have our vote if you continue pursuing this bill,’” Shiprock Delegate Russell Begaye said. He suggested that Navajo and other Arizona tribes make that same proclamation. “I think those types of action are in order.”

Gosar also drew criticism Wednesday when he and Sen. John McCain along with other Arizona and Utah congressional leaders introduced the Northern Arizona Mining Continuity Act of 2011, which would bar the Department of the Interior from withdrawing approximately 1 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon from mining consideration for the next 20 years, as proposed by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in June.

The effect of the bill would be to allow uranium and other mining operations to go forward as soon as possible.

“Senator McCain and Congressman Gosar have turned their backs on thousands of constituents living in northern Arizona who oppose uranium mining,” Roger Clark of Grand Canyon Trust said.

“Havasupai object to their sole source of water being contaminated. All five of the Native nations surrounding the Grand Canyon have banned uranium mining due to its lethal history in the region. And hundreds of businesses, local governments, ranchers, and sporting groups support Secretary Salazar’s proposed ban on new claims because it protects their livelihoods. Who are these elected representatives protecting, other than foreign-owned nuclear industries?” he said.

In respect to copper mine, Begaye said since the Navajo Nation deals with BHP Billiton, they should send the company a resolution or letter to say, “We are opposing your desecration mining in this area.” The bill allows for the company to voluntarily withdraw from the land exchange, effectively terminating the land withdrawal, he said.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Forest Service would convey the 2,400 acres to Resolution Copper in exchange for company-owned land of an equivalent value. Of the company land, about 1,200 acres would become part of the National Forest System while about 4,200 acres would be administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

The bill also directs the Forest Service to sell around 550 acres to the town of Superior, Ariz. Proceeds from the sale, estimated at roughly $1 million, would be spent to acquire other lands. Begaye said purchase of the land by the Nations could deter part of the proposed action.

Resolution Copper has circulated various job figures related to the mining project, however, “The job number changes as often as I change my suit,” Montgomery said. “We do think the jobs would be minimal at the location and minimal for the residents of Arizona.”

Montgomery said it is speculated that Resolution will employ a fully automated “mine of the future” technology, similar to what Rio Tinto recently launched in Australia, which allows it to control 11 mines with robotized drilling, automated haul trucks and driverless ore trains from an operations center 800 miles away.

“We are speculating because they keep a lot of this very close to the vest,” she said. “It will probably be run out of somewhere in Utah where Rio Tinto’s operations are. This is not going to be jobs to benefit the local people very much.”

In the same vein, Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva challenged Gosar, McCain and other Arizona mining bill co-sponsors “to explain why they support polluting the Grand Canyon area for the sake of mining company profits that rarely stay in Arizona and in some cases flow directly overseas.”

“The only people who support this are mining industry lobbyists and a handful of lawmakers ready to carry their water,” Grijalva said. “It’s cynical to tell the people of Arizona in a down economy that this bill will help them when we all know these jobs won’t be local, the profits will go out of state or overseas, and the uranium will be exported to the highest bidder.”

Titla said Begaye’s idea of sending a message to Gosar was a great idea. “I think that we can make a renewed effort to tribes to send that kind of message to Representative Gosar because in the recent redistricting, the San Carlos Tribe stood with all the other tribes in the state legislative district. I think that if those maps are passed by the Department of Justice … once we get that done we can stand together and send that kind of message.”

Thirteen tribes in addition to Navajo oppose H.R. 1904 or its predecessor bills, including Hopi, Zuni, Hualapai, Jicarilla and White Mountain Apache nations. Resolution has sought passage of the bill since around 2005.

Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize, who was asked to sponsor a supporting resolution, said, “This issue is very, very important to us. As you heard, we are also fighting for the San Francisco Peaks, Dooko’oo’sliid … We stand on what we believe, and we believe in all our sacred sites.”

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