This week, CPT Turtle Island Solidarity Network began a presence at Oak Flat (Chi’chil Biłdagoteel), a sacred site for the San Carlos Apache in Arizona in the United States. CPT members are accompanying Apache Stronghold in prayer and action to protect Oak Flat.
Oak Flat is under threat from the mining corporation Resolution Copper (a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto and BHP). In 2014, legislation in the United States Congress laid out a plan for a land transfer to give the area to Resolution Copper. While the legislation requires an Environmental Impact Statement before the land transfer, it allows Resolution Copper to do whatever it wants and exempts them from environmental regulation.
Resolution Copper plans an underground mining technique (“block cave”) that would turn this sacred site into a two-mile wide 1,000-foot crater and destroy it. Even though the land transfer has not yet taken place, Resolution Copper has already begun “dewatering” which removes the groundwater from shafts they drilled into the earth from property they already own. This endangers Oak trees and other plants that depend on groundwater to survive.
The Apache Stronghold is pursuing an injunction to stop the land transfer laid out in the 2014 legislation (deceptively titled the “Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act”). Their legal case is currently in front of the 9th Circuit court of appeals in the US judiciary system. Resolution Copper’s plan for the mine will end the ability of Apache people to pray and hold ceremony at this site. Their legal case argues that the destruction of Oak Flat would violate the Apache’s right to practice freedom of religion under the US Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the obligation of the US government to the Apache under treaty law.
The team has been accompanying the community in daily prayer walks around Oak Flat. As with all of CPT’s work, relationship building is a key part of the work so far.
We highly recommend this 10-minute mini-doc that gives an overview of the Oak Flat struggle: