SAN CARLOS — Saying that the Resolution Copper mine would put “Apache children, grandchildren and those not born at risk,” San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler is calling for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reconsider the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed mine.
Rambler issued his letter on behalf of the tribe on Dec. 23, 2019.
In the letter, Rambler calls Oak Flat, which would be impacted by the mine, “a most precious culturally and geographically defined landscape within the Tonto National Forest, whose ecological integrity is vital to the continuation of Western Apache cultural practices, particularly to many members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.”
The tribe has been in opposition to the proposed mine, starting with a federal land swap that was included in a defense spending authorization bill in fiscal year 2015. The land swap gave Resolution Copper more than 2,400 acres of U.S. Forest Service land — including Oak Flat — in exchange for more than 5,300 acres of company-owned land that is believed to be environmentally sensitive.
Tribal members immediately began the Occupy Oak Flat movement, camping and conducting religious ceremonies in protest of the proposed mine.
“Covering 4,309 acres, Oak Flat lies within the traditional territory of the T’iis Tseban (the cottonwood trees gray among rocks people), also known as the Pinal Band of Apaches, and is closely associated with the related Tse Binesti’é (the surrounded by rocks people), also known as the Aravaipa Band. At least eight Apache clans have direct ties to this location. Tribal members continue to visit Oak Flat for prayer and a wide range of traditional needs and practices. The ethnographic and ethnohistoric study of the area surrounding Oak Flat, conducted by Anthropological Reseach LLC, at the request of the Tonto National Forest, identifies 404 traditional cultural properties of at least nine tribe with traditional ties to the area,” Rambler wrote.
In addition to objections based on religious and historical grounds, Rambler contends the mine will have a severely negative impact on water.
“In 40 years, when the copper will run out if RCM (Resolution Copper Mine) is allowed to mine, the quality of life, especially the elimination and pollution of scant water supplies, will affect not just Apaches but all humans that live in the surrounding areas,” Rambler wrote. “Once the water dries up and what remains becomes contaminated, what will prevent the people living off our reservation to go to Congress and ask Congress for the water under the San Carlos Apache Reservation?
“Clearly, without question, this mine will put Apache children, grandchildren and those not born at risk. Without water, without our church, I fear for the very survival and existence of Apache life, culture and religion.”
The 90-day comment period on the draft environmental impact statement ended Nov. 7, 2019. The USDA will respond to the public’s comments and then publish the final environmental impact study, opening a 45-day public objection period.
The USDA will then be tasked with resolving the objections, draft and issue a final record of decision.