In Arizona, fighting a copper mine planned on sacred land

Oak Flat has been an important location to Indigenous peoples for millennia.


At a camp at Oak Flat this January, Wendsler Nosie Sr., former chairman and councilman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, speaks to elders and other supporters of the Apache Stronghold. Due to litigation from the nonprofit, the land swap has been delayed.

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Chi’chil Bildagoteel, or Oak Flat, a culturally significant site for the San Carlos Apache Tribe and other Indigenous peoples, was protected from copper mining in 1955 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., added a rider to a 2014 military spending bill allowing mining company Resolution Copper to trade scattered private lands for it, using a sped-up environmental assessment process (“How a huge Arizona mining deal was passed — and could be revoked,” 2/2/16).

After completing its project analysis in December — a year early — the U.S. Forest Service planned to begin the swap in January. The agency denied rushing the process, although the Guardian reported that the Trump administration pressured it to. If allowed, Resolution’s underground copper mine — one of the nation’s largest and deepest — would eventually collapse into a crater some 2 miles wide and 1,000 feet deep, destroying important religious and ceremonial sites. Now, facing legal action by the nonprofit Apache Stronghold for violating Indigenous treaty rights, the Forest Service has agreed to temporarily pause the transfer.

Maya L. Kapoor is an associate editor at High Country News. Email her at or submit a letter to the editor

Note: This story’s subhead was updated to reflect a pause in the land transfer.

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