Monday, July 18, 2016

Deadline for comments on Rio Tinto mining project for Oak Flat, sacred Apache site, is TODAY, JULY 18

This photo shows Rio Tinto/BHP/Resolution Copper’s No. 9 and No. 10 shafts at their current mine workings on private land for their proposed mine at Oak Flat, east of Phoenix, Ariz. This was first built in the 1960s by then Magma Copper, which was purchased by BHP and then was merged into the Resolution Copper project now being proposed. (File photo by Keweenaw Now. Information from Roger Featherstone of Arizona Mining Reform Coalition.)

Today, Monday, July 18, 2016, is the deadline for scoping comments on Rio Tinto’s plan to destroy Oak Flat, a Native American sacred site, by building a dangerous mine. For the last day, the Forest Service is accepting scoping comments to help them prepare a draft Environmental Impact Statement. This is a chance for you to tell the Forest Service why this proposal is so bad, and why it is so important to protect Oak Flat. First, here is an excerpt from a letter by Horst Schmidt, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition president, about his visit earlier this year to Oak Flat and to a Native American celebration of their occupation of Oak Flat campground in opposition to the mine.*

By Horst Schmidt

My Visit to Oak Flat

Oak Flat is national forest land with a campground. The Apaches consider it sacred ground.  However, Resolution Mining Co., co-owned by two of the giant miners, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, want the mineral deposit 7,000 feet below Oak Flat. To achieve this goal, they plan to do block cave mining where they allow the rock above to subside into the cavity the company would create from removing the ore. It would be the same as removing your home's foundation. The structure above would collapse. So it would be with the rock above the mine.

When I drove into the rocky enclave at Oak Flat, I saw a pine forest intermittently covering the rocks of the mountain landscape. There is a low area where a pond is dammed, filled with trees. Although at first it seems like any other rocky area of the Superstition Mountains, a sense of serenity came over me -- almost a sense of isolation and beauty.

That sense of serenity was torn away when I arrived at the entrance to Magma Mining Road which leads to Oak Flat -- site of a cyclone-fenced-in area with materials and equipment of the company. As I went past the campground, I saw further signs of their occupation -- degradation caused by plastic water line snaking along the side of the road. At one point just before the end of the road, I saw a steep graveled two track going down vertically about 100 feet where several trucks were parked around a pool of water, presumably caused by drilling activities. A gate across the road and a guard trailer prevented public access. Above I could see a mine head frame and other structures and equipment.

Celebration in Tucson

On Feb. 12, 2016, I attended a celebration in Tucson, Arizona. The San Carlos Apaches and their supporters were in town to celebrate the first year of their occupation of Oak Flat campground in Tonto National Forest. This is the fight to keep Rio Tinto/BHP/ Resolution Copper and the US Forest Service from taking over their sacred land, aided and abetted by Arizona's two US senators.

It was a hopeful and joyous occasion. I came into the building which is home to a number of local community action groups. It's in one of Tucson's impoverished areas, a mix of houses and small businesses, some boarded up, some occupied, empty lots with natural, untended vegetation.

After the modest entrance it opened into a cavernous area with a stage at the back. Along with about 100 other hungry mouths, I enjoyed the potluck with rice and chicken, salads, and desserts. The organizers had their fund raising activity with t-shirts, buttons, posters. I put in my small contribution and got a couple of their neat posters and "Occupy Oak Flat" buttons.

Supporters of the San Carlos Apaches' opposition to the proposed Resolution Copper (Rio Tinto) mine at Oak Flat enjoy a potluck feast during a celebration in Tucson, Ariz. (Photo © and courtesy Horst Schmidt)

The entertainment started with a native guitar musician singing and acting as the master of ceremonies. All informal. A video of the Occupiers, Apache Stronghold, started with why they are fighting for their land again. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) intervened on behalf of the mining company in a sneaky last minute maneuver by adding it to a defense bill which President Obama signed. This maneuver negated a 1955 land order, signed by President Dwight Eisenhower, in which the 760-acre Oak Flat Withdrawal Area was deemed off-limits to future mining.**

Participants in the Tucson celebration watch a video about Oak Flat. (Photo © and courtesy Horst Schmidt)

Many beautiful shots of Oak Flat were presented as part of the video. Then the serious work started. Occupation of the Oak Flat campground, marches, protests, rallies. Taking the campaign to the White House in D.C. and New York's Times Square as well as many other places around the country. Bringing young and old tribal members in traditional native costumes. Dancing, drumming. Inviting onlookers to participate. Many photos showed everyone holding their hands at chest level, parallel to the ground. The sheer volume of these group activities reinforces the tribe's willingness to continue the battle.

When the video was over, the heart and soul of the movement, Wendsler Nosie, San Carlos Apache tribal chairman, came up to talk. He is a committed, passionate leader, who had just returned from Washington, D.C., where he had been meeting politicians to negotiate a new deal for Oak Flat.

Wendsler Nosie, San Carlos Apache tribal chairman, speaks at the Celebration of the Oak Flat Occupation in Tucson, Ariz. (Photo © and courtesy Horst Schmidt)

Drawing on his experience, Nosie spoke in a fervent, almost evangelical way. Here are some paraphrases from the speech which all conveyed the essential message: HOPE.

-We are responsible for each other
-Education is a tough thing when our kids think their polluted environment is normal
-We have to put our spiritual life together
-We can't cut off our roots
-Once Oak Flat is destroyed there is no other place
-Our whole world is destroyed with this piecemeal loss of our land
-McCain, get rid of him by voting him out
-We have to continue our movement
-His mother told him: The greatest gift in the world is hard
-We Indians live in a post-war world: San Carlos people are suffering post-war syndrome (PWS).

What you can do:

The comment deadline is today, July 18, 2016. This is a chance for you to tell the Forest Service why this proposal is so bad, and why it is so important to protect Oak Flat.

The Forest Service needs to look at environmental, cultural, social, economic, transportation, and many other issues.

Rio Tinto’s proposal includes:
•   A mine that would destroy Oak Flat, a sacred site for Native Americans.
•   A process plant that would severely impact the town of Superior without adding any direct tax benefits.
•   A huge pile of toxic tailings on public land that would pollute the air and water and destroy recreational opportunities.
•   A loading facility that would ship copper concentrate oversees for processing.
•   A series of water wells that would further exacerbate water scarcity near Phoenix.

All of this needs to be analyzed in the permitting process. All of these problems need your comments.

Please click here to visit the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition action page to express your views to the Forest Service.

*  See our April 10, 2015, article about Oak Flat, "Native, non-Native concerned citizens camp at Oak Flat, Ariz., opposing potential Rio Tinto/BHP/Resolution copper mine."

** Click here to read an earlier article about Oak Flat and the Resolution Mininc Co. project. 

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