By Renee Babcock
When corporations are erroneously considered people and spending money is a form of protected speech, property rights become more valuable than human rights. Despite twenty-seven changes over the last 226 years, the United States Constitution continues to be used to enshrine property rights for wealthy white men while conspicuously excluding human rights for everyone else.
Few understand this better than Native Americans, whose ancestors were cheated, robbed and systematically killed by white America. This legacy of brutality is echoed in a recent land-exchange bill which passed unnoticed within last December's defense appropriations bill despite being repeatedly rejected by Congress for over a decade.
Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake added the land exchange, using a last minute controversial maneuver to slip the unrelated provision into the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, a $585-billion must-pass military spending bill. The provision gives 2,422 mineral-rich acres of the Tonto National Forest, including Apache ancestral land known as Oak Flat, to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary to the two largest mining corporations in the world, British-owned Rio Tinto and Australian-owned BHP Billiton.
Unsurprisingly, the chief architects of this land grab have been working with mining corporations to pass their agendas in typical quid pro quo fashion. Sen. McCain is perennially the top Congressional recipient of Rio Tinto's campaign contributions and before running for Senate, Flake was a Washington lobbyist for Rio Tinto, which has spent over $10 million in lobbying in the past decade.
Now, the San Carlos Apache are fighting for their religious freedom, cultural heritage, and future. This summer the Apache Stronghold coalition caravanned across the country, speaking at Neil Young concerts, flash mobbing Time Square, and arriving at the Capitol to protest the US government illegally handing over their sacred land to foreign mining corporations that will destroy it and take its mineral wealth for their own profit.
The Land-Exchange Violates US law, Federal Protections, and Indigenous Religious Freedom
The land is sacred to the Western Apache and Yavapai whose spiritual beings live within Oak Flat and who have used the site for generations. These religious and cultural ties have been recognized and protected by the federal government since 1955, when President Eisenhower decreed Oak Flat a Forest Service Multiple-Use Area, specifically closed to mining.