Native American Tribes, especially the Apache, archaeologist and other conservationists are upset about a controversial land exchange between the federal government and a copper mining company, Resolution Copper Mining. The rider was inserted into the defense spending bill the bill necessary to fund the military, and is likely to pass any day now. The land set to be given over is 980 hectares of Arizona’s Tonto National Forest containing Oak Flat with many petroglyphs, Hohokam sites, the best documented Apache archaeological sites and many scared places. The writing in this new rider sidesteps the proper process for environmental impact assessment set out in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Groups have been fighting this swap for nearly ten years, since 2005 bills proposing the swap have died in Congress 11 times. Last year alone the San Carlos Apache tribe, Pascua Yaqui Tride, and the Tohono O’odham Nation were among 20 Native American groups petioning Congressional leaders, protesting the land-swap bill.
[quote_center]What is at stake is a landscape that has remained essentially unchanged, except for a few modern roads, since the Hohokam people lived there more than 500 years ago, says J. Scott Wood, an archaeologist for the Tonto National Forest. The area was once a trade center where the Hohokam exchanged goods from as far away as the Pacific Coast. It also preserves a full range of Apache archaeological sites, which are rare. Little is known about Apache history prior to contact with Europeans.[/quote_center]
One of the most historically significant sites is the location of Apache leap, where a group of Apache pursued by the U.S. Calvary plunged off the cliff rather than be captured. The rider exempts Apache Lap itself but the site would be impacted says Vernelda Grant, tribal historic preservation officer for the San Carlos Apache.
The mining company has [also] acknowledged that Oak Flat will be damaged by the proposed mine due to its use of block-cave mining. This method of mining removes a mountain of rock from underground, resulting in major subsidence, or collapse, of the land above.Resolution Copper estimates a two-mile wide crater will form at Oak Flat due to the mining.
Opponents — including the Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners Coalition in Superior — say the mine could be much less damaging, and still profitable, if a less destructive method of mining were used, such as the cut-and-fill technique historically used in Superior.