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POLITICAL SALSA with SAL BALDENEGRO 2.11.15 “SACRED SITES MATTER”
Indigenous sacred sites matter…
Senator John McCain.
Arizona Democrat House member Ann Kirkpatrick, whose district includes the Apache reservation, teamed up with Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake and Republican-Tea Party House member Paul Gosar to attack the Apache tribe in an Arizona land-swap deal sneakily tucked into the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act in December, 2014.
The swap: the U.S. gives 2,400 prime acres of Tonto National Forest (just outside Superior, Arizona) to Australian corporations Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, who will, through Resolution Copper, build a copper mine on the site. In
Oak Flat outside Superior, Arizona – Kenneth Chan
return, Resolution Copper gives the U. S. Forest Service 5,000 acres of overgrazed grassland, burned out forests and dry riverbeds in land parcels scattered throughout Arizona. One 3,000-acre parcel is in a flood plain and can’t be developed or inhabited.
Resolution Copper will destroy Apache Sacred lands
The copper mine will be in Oak Flat, an Apache ancestral sacred site where religious ceremonies are held and acorns, an Apache dietary staple, and medicinal herbs are
San Carlos Apache Reservation.
gathered. Oak Flat includes Apache Leap, where warriors once leapt to their deaths rather than be killed or captured by U.S. troops. San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler told the Indian Country Today newspaper: “At the heart of (the tribe’s opposition to the mine) is freedom of religion, the ability to pray within an environment created for the Apache.”
At first glance, it would seem the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) would help. But AIRFA has no enforcement power, and in an AIRFA-based case brought before it, the U.S. Supreme Court found that AIRFA and
Oak Flat Protest – Kenneth Chan
the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment afford little to no protection of tribal sacred sites located on federal lands. Yavapai-Apache Nation Chairman Thomas Beauty noted in Indian Country Today that while the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, “…the first people of the United States…are continuously denied the freedom of religion and the preservation of religious sites, such as Oak Flat.”
Over 500 tribes support the Apaches. In the face of lack of federal enforcement by AIRFA, in early February some 300 members of tribes from across the U.S. and
Oak Flat protestors – Kenneth Chan
national American Indian organization representatives protested the infringement on traditional Apache holy lands located on U.S. Forest Service land. Non-indigenous supporters also participated. The group marched 44 miles from the San Carlos Apache Reservation to Oak Flat and held a weekend-long Gathering of Nations Holy Ground Ceremony. Since then, Apaches have occupied Oak Flat, protecting the sacred site and have vowed not to leave until the land exchange is repealed. The Arizona Apache struggle reflects an ongoing worldwide battle against Rio Tinto by Indigenous Peoples protecting sites that are sacred to them.
Environmental, health, and safety concerns.
Rio Tinto’s mining will destroy sacred lands.
The Apache fear mining will also destroy their water source and wreak environmental havoc on their land. To extract copper ore, Resolution will use a method known as panel caving, which entails digging a hole up to two miles wide. This will destroy forest land and wildlife habitat and leave the land above vulnerable to collapse, creating craters. Apache Chairman Rambler says that, “This land is where we go to pray, it’s where we have our sunrise ceremony, our coming of age ceremony. It’s where we get our food and where the Creator God put our water resources and there’s going to be a hole there over an area of two miles in circumference.”
Open pit mining destroys mountains.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups share the Apaches’ fear. And with good reason, given Rio Tinto’s track record in this regard. Some examples: Rio Tinto’s Grasberg mine in Indonesia encroaches on a sacred site of indigenous inhabitants who depend on its ecosystem to survive. The mine has gradually destroyed huge sections of the mountain top, uses more than a billion gallons of water a month, and dumps 230,000 tons of toxic waste (tailings, the often contaminated by-product of mining extraction) directly into a natural river system each day, killing all plant life along the banks and contaminating drinking water supplies.
The IndustriALL Global Union reports that the waste dumped into local rivers by Rio Tinto in the Panguna open-cut mine in New Guinea killed all aquatic life, precipitating an indigenous uprising in 1989. The union also references nomads living in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert whose wells have dried up after their scarce source of underground water was diverted by Rio Tinto’s gold and copper mine. The union also cites a Rio Tinto uranium mine in Australia that recently leaked 1.4 million liters of radioactive slurry.
Rio Tinto is notoriously anti-union, anti-worker.
Superior, Arizona – Kenneth Chan
Like all Arizona mining towns, Superior, AZ is a union (United Steelworkers) town, the antithesis of an anti-union, anti-worker outfit like Resolution. The IndustriALL Global Union reports that Rio Tinto is increasingly turning to contract workers. In 2014, at one Rio Tinto mine there were twice as many contract workers as permanent workers, and at another, Rio Tinto fired fulltime workers but kept on casual-contract workers.
This past November, thousands of Rio Tinto workers participated in a global day of defiance to demand safer workplaces and respect for workers’ rights. Recently, three union federations—citing Rio Tinto’s demand that retiring workers from a Quebec aluminum smelter be replaced by non-union contract workers at half the wages and no benefits—voted to conduct a global campaign against Rio Tinto for the lock-out of 800 members of the United Steelworkers union in Alma, Quebec. In one of its Australian mines, Rio Tinto attempted to break the coal mining union by severely limiting the workers’ right to picket during a strike.
False promise of jobs.
Rio Tinto plans for driverless trucks, putting blue-collar workers out of work.
Given that Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton are moving toward automating mines, whether Superior’s blue-collar workforce will benefit from the mine is questionable. Both companies have driverless trucks and plans for remote-controlled blast-hole drills, rock breakers and shovels. Resolution CEO David Salisbury acknowledges that Resolution will use robotics in the Arizona mine. Resolution will likely use tele-operated equipment, running underground machinery from a distance, requiring fewer workers, who will have to have a higher level of education—even advanced degrees—than earlier miners did. A United Steelworkers official maintains that most of the Resolution workers will be imported from Phoenix or elsewhere. No wonder the Superior Town Council withdrew its support for the land-swap bill.
The politics here are all wrong…
Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick is working with Republicans against the Apache people.
Apart from the above, the politics of what’s going on are wrong. Democratic House member Ann Kirkpatrick should not be working with Republicans and tea partiers to hurt the Apaches. When she first ran for office in 2008 she promised to consider the Apaches’ stance regarding Oak Flat and the sacred grounds. According to former Apache Chairman Wendsler Nosie Sr., Kirpatrick mocked the Apaches’ religion in a meeting with Apache leaders called to discuss her support of the land swap. And as noted, Rio Tinto is a virulently anti-union and anti-environment outfit.
Yet, Kirkpatrick is getting a free pass from the Democratic Party. Grassroots Indian groups, joined by non-indigenous progressives and environmentalists, have been protesting at Kirkpatrick’s constituent meetings and at the offices of Sen. McCain and Sen. Flake.
But the Democratic Party is conspicuously silent regarding Kirkpatrick’s betrayal of Democratic principles. It rings pathetically hollow for the Democratic Party to criticize anti-labor, anti-environment, anti-people of color Republicans even as by its silence it enables and encourages Democrats who stand with the anti-labor, anti-environment, anti-people of color Republicans. The Democratic Party’s sitting on the sidelines on this very important issue sends a strong—and wrong—message. c/s
Copyright 2015 by Salomon Baldenegro. To contact Sal write: firstname.lastname@example.org