This week, the Senate will vote to strip Native Americans of ancestral land, giving it instead to a foreign mining corporation.
The action is buried in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which in recent years has come under fire not only for consistently approving billions of dollars for war, but for authorizing the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial. It passed in the House earlier this year.
This year’s version added a provision that grants 2,400 acres of Apache land in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona to Rio Tinto, an Australian-English company. Apache medicinal, ceremonial, and burial grounds will be given to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. Rio Tinto has been criticized by the right for sharing an African uranium mine with Iran, but the land grab is even more damning.
The transfer of the Apache land passed independently in the House once in 2011, but twice last year did not garner enough support. It was opposed by both Democrats and Republicans following intense lobbying by Rio Tinto for nearly a decade.
Terry Rambler, the chairman of the San Carlos Apache tribe, said of the heartbreaking news:
Since time immemorial people have gone there. That’s part of our ancestral homeland…We’ve had dancers in that area forever — sunrise dancers — and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They’ll seal that off. They’ll seal us off from the acorn grounds, and the medicinal plants in the area, and our prayer areas.
In a show of cold “compassion,” the stolen land stops short of an area called Apache Leap. It was a summit where trapped Apaches jumped to their deaths rather than face the wrath of settlers and U.S. troops in the 19th century. Even Apache Leap, though it technically remains in control of the federal government (along with an area of oak trees), can be drilled if Rio Tinto gets permission within a 30- or 90-day wait period.
The government justifies the transfer because it stands to gain land in exchange for the Apache ancestral acres. It also claims that jobs and economic development make the “deal” worth it. Rio Tinto says it will generate $61 billion and 3700 direct and indirect jobs over 40 years, though the numbers are disputed.
Regardless, one of the main concerns with the deal is the effect drilling will have on the ecosystem. Rio Tinto uses “block cave” mining, which digs for ore but causes the land above it to crack, subside, and even collapse. The mountains that will be affected currently distribute rain water and snow to the people who live on the land. Rambler said
It seems like us Apaches and other Indians care more about what this type of action does to the environment and the effects it leaves behind for us, while others tend to think more about today and the promise of jobs, but not necessarily what our creator God gave to us.
This year’s NDAA also includes other questionable federal land deals that put the environment at risk.
Clearly, slipping the Apache land robbery into the NDAA was a successful attempt to push it through without scrutiny. When scrutiny was applied, the measure failed. Twice. But the NDAA invariably passes every year, even following outrage over the government and president’s declaration that it can imprison whoever it wants, when it wants, for as long as it wants.
It is no secret that the NDAA has nothing to do with “defense” and everything to do with perpetuating America’s military empire and the government’s dominion over its citizens. The addition of the Apache land transfer only further proves the inherent sham of entrusting government to keep citizens “safe.”