SUPERIOR — A new copper mine proposed near Superior has U.S. Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., and a segment of her constituency on opposing sides.
Elders of the San Carlos Apache Tribe recently traveled to Superior to protest an appearance by Kirkpatrick with U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., in support of House Resolution 687, which would trade federal land in order to facilitate development of the Resolution Copper Mine.
“As a 10-year-old, I remember being here in this area picking up acorn with my family,” said tribal elder Valeria Victor. “This place brings back many memories for me. We grew up around this area, and I distinctly recall a holy ceremony that was held right there.”
The tribe contends that part of the land included in the proposed swap — Oak Flat — is holy ground and as such should negate the deal.
Kirkpatrick, who represents Graham and Greenlee counties as well as seven different tribes within her congressional district, said the concerns of the tribe are being addressed, though perhaps not to the tribe’s complete satisfaction.
“I’ve been pushing for more tribal consultation and environmental assessments,” Kirkpatrick said.
She pointed to the recent removal of the 110-acre Apache Leap area from the deal as an example of her efforts to address tribal concerns.
“This bill is not the same as the one I introduced (in 2009) or the one introduced by Congressman Gosar. There have been changes, and I’m attempting to balance the concerns of everyone involved,” Kirkpatrick said.
As currently proposed, HR687 would give Resolution Copper more than 2,400 acres of U.S. Forest Service land in exchange for more than 5,300 acres of company-owned land that is believed to be environmentally sensitive.
Kirkpatrick met with tribal leaders during an August town hall with Gosar in Superior — a town that has also come out in opposition to the land swap over environmental and water concerns.
“It’s all about money. What people will do for money is just plain stupid. They don’t think,” said tribal elder Gladys Hinton. “As Apaches, we hold true to our tradition and our beliefs ,and we are taught not to trust anyone that will take away our land and sell our water. That makes me so sad. That’s why I came today, to continue to stand up for what I believe, and that is to protect the ways of our Apache people and help save our water. That’s ours. It doesn’t belong to nobody else.”
Despite the protest, Kirkpatrick said she was glad she met with the tribal elders.
“I made a point of making that visit, I wanted to speak with the tribe,” she said. “Doing that town hall was significant.”
If the swap goes forward, the underground Resolution Copper mine would be the largest copper mine in North America, generating an estimated 1.599 billion tons of tailings, or about 25 percent of the United States copper demand.
Sandra Rambler contributed to the article.