Tag Archives: Interior Department

11/17/2011 Mining and American Indians Still Don’t Mix

11/17/2011 Indian Country Today: Mining and American Indians Still Don’t Mix by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva The Native American community has a long, troubled history with mining interests, and today that history is catching up with us in Arizona. From a new push for uranium mining at the Grand Canyon to the ongoing battle over Resolution Copper, it’s not too much to say my home state tribes are under siege.

Many of us remember the decades of cancer deaths and cover-ups the Navajo Nation endured during the Cold War uranium boom. The risks today are different, but the story is the same: big mining interests want to cash in on minerals under some ground they don’t own, and the rest of us are going to pay the price.

Let’s start at the beginning. Resolution Copper has proposed to exchange 4,500 acres of land in northern Arizona for the 3,000 federally owned acres it wants to mine. The land the company wants includes not only Oak Flat Campground, a protected site since 1955, but the nearby Apache Leap area sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

Once you take a good look, it’s not even a good deal on paper. Current mining law says the public would receive no royalties on the estimated 1.6 billion tons of copper the company would extract and sell. Worse, Resolution Copper is jointly owned by troubled mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Both have long been accused of undermining native rights around the world to increase their profit margin. The latter, based in Australia and London, has faced a decade’s worth of especially credible allegations of human rights abuses. Neither cares about the local economy or has shown an interest in Indian sovereignty.

Rio Tinto’s role is especially disturbing. The company faces major potential sanctions in Sarei v. Rio Tinto, a case pending before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that focuses on its alleged abuses in Papua New Guinea. (The Australian news program Dateline in June aired credible allegations of the company’s role in a violent separatist movement in the province of Bougainville.) A company with such a dark history shouldn’t be trusted with the sensitive land Resolution Copper is seeking.

Resolution’s parent companies send their profits overseas and market their product to the highest bidder. This isn’t about providing copper for American industry—it’s about cashing in on public resources and leaving the rest of us to clean up the mess. Native communities don’t need a long memory to know what that means.

Then there’s the Grand Canyon. There are about 1.1 million acres of public forest land surrounding the canyon currently subject to a moratorium on new mining claims set by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Salazar said in June he would recommend withdrawing the land from new claims for 20 years by the end of 2011. This recommendation comes after two years of study by Interior Department land conservation and natural resource experts.

No one seems to want new mining up there. The withdrawal is supported by local tribes. It’s also supported by Coconino County, which includes the canyon, and just about everyone else. But the new Northern Arizona Mining Continuity Act of 2011 asks Congress to block the withdrawal. If it becomes law, mining prospects could open as soon as companies are ready, regardless of the ancestral Havasupai territory that would likely be affected. The likeliest company to file new claims is Canada-based Denison Mines Corp., in which South Korea’s largest energy producer owns a twenty percent stake.

The lawmakers responsible for this assault – Sen. John McCain and Reps. Paul Gosar, Jeff Flake, David Schweikert, Trent Franks and Ben Quayle of Arizona and Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, all Republicans – have wanted to open this land all along, and are now cynically selling their plan as an economic stimulus. In reality, it’s all about profits for a handful of uranium mining companies that don’t hire local labor, don’t keep their profits in the state (or in some cases the country) and don’t sell their product domestically.

The Havasupai, Hualapai, Kaibab-Paiute, Navajo, and Hopi have banned uranium mining on their land, for good reason. But we need to go further, which is why I introduced the RESPECT Act in this Congress to ensure that we require nation-to-nation consultation and signoff prior to any land trade impacting Native American nations or filing a bill in Congress to process those trades. Tribes should be an integral part of the decision-making process whenever federal activities could affect tribal life, and this bill makes that happen.

It’s unfortunate that mining has become such a controversial part of our economy and our community. I’m hardly opposed to mining on principle – I recognize the need for mineral goods in our economy. But they shouldn’t come at the expense of Native American rights, worker safety or the law.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva has represented Arizona’s Seventh Congressional District since 2002. He co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and is the ranking member on the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Before his election to Congress, he served on Arizona’s Pima County Board of Supervisors and led the effort to create the landmark Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

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10/17/2011 AZ Daily Sun: Native American leader Elouise Cobell dies at 65

FILE - In a Dec. 8, 2009 file photo Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe from Montana who was the lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit regarding the U.S. government's trust management and accounting of over three hundred thousand individual American Indian trust accounts, left, is greeted by Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar following an announcement on the settlement of Cobell lawsuit at the Interior Department in Washington, A spokesman for Cobell says the Blackfeet woman who led a 15-year fight to force the U.S. government to account for more than a century of mismanaged Indian land royalties has died. She was 65. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta/File)

10/17/2011 AZ Daily Sun: Native American leader Elouise Cobell dies at 65 Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet woman who led a 15-year legal fight to force the U.S. government to account for more than a century of mismanaged Indian land royalties, died Sunday. She was 65. Cobell died at a Great Falls hospital of complications from cancer, spokesman Bill McAllister said.

Cobell was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in 1996 claiming the Interior Department had misspent, lost or stolen billions of dollars meant for Native American land trust account holders dating back to the 1880s.

After years of legal wrangling, the two sides in 2009 agreed to settle for $3.4 billion, the largest government class-action settlement in U.S. history. The beneficiaries are estimated to be about 500,000 people.

Asked what she wanted her legacy to be, Cobell said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press that she hoped she would inspire a new generation of Native Americans to fight for the rights of others and lift their community out of poverty.

“Maybe one of these days, they won’t even think about me. They’ll just keep going and say, `This is because I did it,'” Cobell said. “I never started this case with any intentions of being a hero. I just wanted this case to give justice to people that didn’t have it.”

President Barack Obama released a statement that said Cobell’s work provided a measure of justice to hundreds of thousands of Native Americans, will give more people access to higher education and will give tribes more control over their own lands.

“Elouise helped to strengthen the government to government relationship with Indian Country, and our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family and all those who mourn her passing,” the statement read.

Cobell said she had heard stories since she was a child of how the government had shortchanged Native Americans with accounts for royalties from their land that was leased for resource development or farming.

She became outraged when she actually started digging into how much money the government had squandered that belonged people who were living in dire poverty on the Blackfeet reservation in northwestern Montana, she said.

She realized the amount mismanaged since the 1880s could be hundreds of billions of dollars. She said she tried for years working with two U.S. government administrations to resolve the dispute in the early 1990s, then decided to sue with four other Native Americans as plaintiffs when no progress was made.

The government dug in. Over the next 14 years, there were more than 3,600 court filings, 220 days of trial, 80 published court decisions and 10 appeals until the 2009 breakthrough.

Under the settlement, $1.4 billion would go to individual Indian account holders. Some $2 billion would be used by the government to buy up fractionated Indian lands from individual owners willing to sell, and then turn those lands over to tribes. Another $60 million would be used for a scholarship fund for young Indians.

Cobell spent the next year shuttling back and forth between her home in Browning to Washington, D.C., to lobby individual congressmen to approve the deal. She also logged thousands of miles traveling across Indian country to explain the deal to the potential beneficiaries.

She found unexpected resistance among some Native Americans. They questioned why it was so little, how much would be going to her and they attorneys or why it didn’t include a more complete accounting of what happened to the money.

Congress approved the deal and Obama signed it in December of 2010, a year after it was first proposed. A federal judge approved the settlement in June, though there are still appeals of the settlement pending.

Cobell discovered she had cancer just a few weeks before the judge’s approval in June. She traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for surgery.

Cobell was born with the Indian name Little Bird Woman, a great granddaughter of the famous leader Mountain Chief. She grew up with seven brothers and sisters on the Blackfeet reservation.

She graduated from Great Falls Business College and received honorary degrees from Montana State University, Rollins College and, earlier this year, Dartmouth College.

She was the Blackfeet nation’s treasurer for 13 years, and in 1987 helped found the first U.S. bank to be owned by a tribe, the Blackfeet National Bank, which is now the Native American Bank.

Cobell was the executive director of the nonprofit Native American Community Development Corp., which promotes sustainable economic development in Indian Country.

She won a $300,000 “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1997 and used most of the money to help fund the lawsuit.

Cobell lived on a ranch 30 miles south of Browning with her husband Alvin. Her only son, Turk, lives in Las Vegas with his wife Bobbie and their children Olivia and Gabriella.

She has a brother and two sisters who live in Browning and a third sister who lives in Seattle.

10/12/2011 The GOP-led bill opens up Grand Canyon area to mining

10/12/2011 The GOP-led bill opens up Grand Canyon area to mining: By FELICIA FONSECA The Salt Lake Tribune, The Associated Press: FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. • A group of Republican lawmakers is renewing an effort to open up 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon to new mining claims. Legislation announced Wednesday would prevent the Interior Department from extending a temporary ban on the filing of new mining claims that expires in December. The group said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s intention to set aside the land for 20 years would eliminate hundreds of potential jobs, create a de-facto wilderness area and unravel decades of responsible resource development.

“At a time when we are desperate for jobs and economic growth, this administration continues to do everything in its power to implement the job-killing policies of fringe environmental groups,” said Arizona Rep. David Schweikert. “This withdrawal is not so much a protection of the Grand Canyon but a governmental land grab of economically fertile mining land.”

Salazar enacted a two-year ban in July 2009 but extended it by six months earlier this year to give the U.S. Bureau of Land Management more time to study the economic and environmental effects of mining. Interior officials said Wednesday that any claims about jobs losses are false.

Should any of the land be withdrawn, mining companies would need to prove they have valid existing rights to those claims before mining could occur. According to the BLM’s draft environmental study, 11 mines could open over the next 20 years under Salazar’s proposal. Without a withdrawal, up to 30 mines could be developed. The difference in the number of jobs under the two scenarios would be 71, the BLM said.

Other proposals include withdrawing either 300,000 or 650,000 acres from any new claims. The final study is due out later this month.

“Interior is considering many factors in evaluating the issue, including the economic benefits of Grand Canyon National Park and the potential impacts on the park of expanding mining nearby,” said Interior spokesman Adam Fetcher.

Efforts in Congress to prohibit or allow mining on the same acreage have made little headway. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., added a rider to an Interior appropriations bill earlier this year to end the ban, and Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., introduced legislation last year to keep Interior from withdrawing any land. The two were joined by the rest of Arizona’s Republican delegation, and lawmakers from other Western states in supporting the latest effort.

In a letter to Salazar, the lawmakers said they share in a desire to protect the Grand Canyon from adverse environmental impacts but don’t believe shutting out mining companies is the answer, particularly in an area known for high-grade uranium ore. They said a federal law that designated wilderness areas near the Grand Canyon provides a good balance for mining and resource protection.

McCain said a full withdrawal of the 1 million acres of federal land “will raise significant questions for future wilderness bills if agreements to accommodate responsible land uses are neither genuine nor enduring.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., has been on the opposite side of the lawmakers, advocating for a permanent withdrawal of the land from new mining claims. A bill he sponsored to do just that routinely has stalled.

“Selling this as a jobs bill for the future and brushing the environmental damage under the rug isn’t going to fly with voters,” he said of the Republicans’ move. “The public overwhelmingly supported Secretary Salazar’s announcement during the comment period, and the public supports it today. This bill is a waste of taxpayers’ time, and I join them in looking forward to its defeat.”

8/29/2011 Navajo Times: Lawsuits shed light on Peabody's clout Part 2

8/29/2011 Navajo Times: Lawsuits shed light on Peabody’s clout Part 2 by Marley Shebala: The heart of the Navajo Nation’s 1999 racketeering lawsuit against Peabody Energy, Southern California Edison and Salt River Project was a belief that their behavior in Washington was beyond unethical – it was illegal. No, it was just business as usual, the defendants maintained. The tribe filed suit alleging violations of the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act after learning that Peabody had hired a friend of then Interior Secretary Donald Hodel to seek his support as the industry giants maneuvered to derail coal royalty increases that his own agency said were justified.

After enjoying years of royalty rates equaling about 2 percent on Black Mesa coal, Peabody and the utilities, managing partners in the two power plants that used the coal, were facing a new rate as high as 20 percent.

Then BIA Navajo Area Director Donald Dodge had agreed with the Navajo Nation that the rate, set by a 1964 lease agreement, needed to be increased.

The tussle over a rate increase began when Congress in 1976 established a minimum royalty rate of 12 percent for federally owned coal. A year later the Interior Department adopted a policy that set 12 percent as the minimum rate for Indian coal, which the government considers federal property that is held in trust for the tribes.

Dodge notified Peabody in September 1979 that it was in violation of its lease with the Navajo Nation, which could be canceled as a result.

Peabody obtained the tribe’s support to have Dodge back off the talk of cancellation in return for agreeing to substantially increase the royalties and apply the rates retroactively to Jan. 1, 1980.

That’s according to the 1999 RICO complaint filed by then Navajo Nation Department of Justice Attorney General Levon Henry and a host of outside attorneys hired to help with the case.

But shortly after Dodge backed off, Peabody denied any such agreement.

The BIA tried again in 1981 to pressure Peabody to raise the royalty rate by challenging the company’s failure to obtain a right-of-way over Navajo lands for the access road it built to its two mines on Black Mesa.