Native Americans are celebrating and calling President Obama a “hero” after he blocked the sale of Apache ancestral land to a British mining company, at least temporarily, by re-designating it a historic place. However, the designation does not guarantee the land won’t be sold in the future.
Congress unwittingly approved the sale, when Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake secretly added a provision allowing it to the National Defense Authorization Act, just before it passed in December of 2014.
Oak Flat, Arizona, has been inhabited by the Apache people since prehistoric times. Like Mount Sinai to Jews and Christians, Oak Flat is “holy land” to Apache Americans.
In addition to serving as burial ground for countless generations, it is also where the tribe performs their traditional annual acorn gathering ceremonies and coming of age ceremonies, especially for girls. Rather than church, Oak Flat is where the Apache go to pray.
It’s not the first time Europeans have had their eyes on the copper-rich Apache land. President Eisenhower designated the area off limits to mining interests in 1955. Nixon renewed the ban in 1971. President Obama renewed the ban again a couple of weeks ago, after over a year of protests.
While the president’s move will definitely throw a monkey wrench in the attempted land grab, it’s unlikely the British mining giant Rio Tinto will give up easily. The company has been coveting the land for over a decade, and has made multiple attempts to obtain it.
“The designation of Oak Flat as a National Historic Place could hamper the plan to construct a copper mine on the land. But ultimately nothing ‘guarantees that a historic property cannot be modified or even destroyed,’ said Stephanie Toothman, the National Register’s keeper, in a letter to the two lawmakers,” Raw Story reports.
A more permanent solution to preserving the land would be the passage of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ bill – the Save Oak Flat Act – which he presented last summer. Sander’s wife paid a visit to Apache activists camping out at Oak Flat earlier today.
If sold, Oak Flat will be transformed into a two-mile wide, 1000-foot deep pit, the size of a meteor crater, and will pollute local water supplies.