Arizona Tribal Group Denounces Land Exchange Bill

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
February 13, 2012

Arizona tribal leaders were on Capitol Hill on Thursday, testifying against House Bill 1904, a bill that would allow copper mining on Native American land. Opponents say the deal goes against a federal mining ban already in place. Supporters say it’s an economic boon.

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Shan Lewis, president of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., testified about the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011 to the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources on Feb. 9, 2012.

The land exchange bill would swap more than 2,000 acres of federal land in the Tonto National Forest to the private mining firm Resolution Copper. Seven thousand feet below the surface is one of the largest untapped copper deposits in the world.

In return, Resolution Copper would give the federal government more than 5,000 acres of land in Yavapai and Coconino counties. Arizona Senator John McCain testified at committee hearing Thursday. He said the “it [land exchange] would employ 3,400 Americans. It would produce 25 percent of the U.S. copper supply. It generates $61 billion in economic growth."

Native Americans say damage to the environment outweighs the economic impact. Shan Lewis from Inter Tribal Council of Arizona told the committee that copper mining in eastern Arizona would damage San Carlos Apache Nation land.

“Many tribes go to these places for prayer ceremonies, to gather their ceremonial items, or for peace and personal cleansing,” Lewis said. “These places are holy.”

The bill has been proposed several times in recent years. It passed in the House in October 2011. If the Senate approves the land swap, Resolution Copper would develop an underground copper mine that could be worth up to $6 billion.

View the U.S. Senate archived webcast.