Grijalva's new legislation seeks to safeguard Oak Flat site from foreign-owned mining

Published: Monday, March 6, 2023 - 6:06pm
Updated: Tuesday, March 7, 2023 - 8:34am

New legislation introduced by southern Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva seeks to safeguard a stretch of Tonto National Forest land from mining activity.

The area is called Oak Flat, and it stretches across just over 2,400 acres of national forest land. It's a sacred site to the San Carlos Apache Tribe and other Arizona tribes. But a last-minute piece of legislation passed in 2014 transferred it from federal control into the hands of a proposed mining operation called Resolution Copper. 

The move heightened a years-long effort by San Carlos Apache members and other grassroots activists to protect the site, which they say will be irreparably destroyed by the mining activity. 

Grijalva says the Trump administration rushed the Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, that green-lit the latest phase. The Biden administration later rescinded that EIS, but mining plans continue.

In the text of the bill, Grijalva notes Oak Flat is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Tonto National Forest where it now sits was established in 1905 "from the ancestral homelands of American Indians who were forcibly removed at gunpoint from Oak Flat and  other areas of the Forest by the United States Army." 

The bill also says that Resolution Copper is owned by two, foreign-owned mining companies BHP and Rio Tinto. The bill says Rio Tinto has a "long record of human rights violations and environmental devastation," including an incident in 2020 in which the company used explosives to blow up a site sacred to Indigenous peoples in Australia, with evidence of human habitation dating back millennia. 

Grijalva says the new legislation, dubbed the Save Oak Flat From 5 Foreign Mining Act, will offer permanent protection to the site, by blocking mining companies from setting up there.

“Our Tribe has opposed the Resolution Mine for nearly 20 years because it will destroy one of our most sacred sites, Chi’chil Bildagoteelalso known as Oak Flat,” San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Terry Rambler said in response to the legislation. “The Save Oak Flat Act would repeal a law that mandates the transfer of federal land on the Tonto National Forest to foreign mining entities that intend to extract copper that will be exported overseas.”