Tag Archives: Rio Tinto

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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10/13/2011 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.”