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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/22/16

Bernie Sanders Champions Legislation in U.S. Senate to Protect Apache Sacred Lands Oak Flat in Arizona from Destruction

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Tribes nation-wide and other Americans across the country deeply appreciate Senator Bernie Sanders' efforts in the U.S. Senate to protect tribal sacred land in Arizona known as Oak Flat, located on U.S. Forest Service land, from destruction by foreign-owned mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton through their U.S. limited-liability company Resolution Copper Mining. Taking on these mining companies and fighting back against the millions of dollars these companies and their allies spent and continue to spend on lobbyists and political contributions, Senator Sanders introduced S. 2242, the Save Oak Flat Act, to correct not only an injustice to Native Americans but also against the American people. This situation is generally unknown to most American citizens.

Sanders' legislation, the Save Oak Flat Act, would repeal Section 3003, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Act (Land Exchange), of the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which would privatize part of the Tonto National Forest and transfer Oak Flat, a sacred area of Apaches and other Native Americans, to Resolution Copper Mining, jointly owned by foreign-owned mining companies BHP Billiton (United Kingdom) and Rio Tinto (Australia), resulting in the destruction of this sacred area. Resolution Copper Mining seeks to develop the largest copper mine in North America on this sacred land that will result in the collapse of an area at least 2 miles in diameter and the destruction of the Oak Flat area. The Save Oak Flat Act would immediately halt this giveaway of land and natural
resources owned by the American people to foreign-owned mining companies. Sanders' bill is cosponsored by New Mexico's Senator Martin Heinrich and Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin.

For centuries, the Oak Flat area in the Tonto National Forest has been considered sacred to Apaches, Yavapais, and other Native Americans. Located about an hour due east of Phoenix, Arizona, this unique and stunningly beautiful land has long played a vital role in Native ceremonies, religion, tradition, and culture.

Oak Flat has always been a place where Native Americans in the region have gone to pray, to conduct ceremonial dances, to gather acorns for sustenance, to collect medicines and ceremonial items, and to seek and obtain peace and personal cleansing.

Public lands, like Oak Flat, are carved out of the ancestral homelands of Indian tribes, and the historical and spiritual connections of Native Americans to these lands have not been extinguished. The United States has legal and moral obligations to provide access to Native Americans and to protect these traditional territories in a manner that respects the cultural, historical and religious importance to Indian tribes.

For over a decade, hundreds of tribal governments, tribal organizations, and hundreds of thousands of individual grassroots activists united in opposition to the Land Exchange to protect these tribal homelands. Because of this staunch opposition, House of Representatives Leadership twice pulled the bill from consideration because it lacked the votes for passage during the 113th Congress. The Senate also refused to advance the bill through regular order.

To circumvent and silence this opposition, Arizona Senator John McCain and Representatives Paul Gosar and Ann Kirkpatrick forced a closed-door deal to attach the Land Exchange as a midnight rider into the NDAA in December 2014. In addition to the destruction of this place of worship, the Land Exchange will threaten the water quality and water supply of the region. The Tonto National Forest was established in 1905 principally to protect the region's watershed. However, the Land Exchange will effectively eliminate these protections. Under current plans, the mining operation will require an unsustainable amount of water to operate and leave behind contaminated water affecting the region for generations to come.

If Resolution Copper Mining is allowed to develop the massive mine it seeks on Oak Flat, then it plans to mine the area until it has utterly depleted and contaminated all the resources on the land. Its parent companies will pocket the billions of dollars in profits along the way but will abandon the area once all the minerals have been extracted, leaving a massive Super Fund site that the tribes and others in the region will forced to live in. The potential desecration of these lands and privatizing of a national forest is nothing you have ever heard a word about from Hillary or any of the Republicans. Without Bernie Sanders' efforts, these Apaches wouldn't have a chance.

Senator Sanders stands up for what is right in his efforts to protect Oak Flat and the American people from corporate greed. That is what kind of President we need, and that is what kind of President he will be!

For media questions, please contact Katie Thomas at the Senator's Washington office 202-224-5141, or emailing his press office.

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Early in the 2016 Primary campaign, I started a Facebook group: Bernie Sanders: Advice and Strategies to Help Him Win! As the primary season advanced, we shifted the focus to advancing Bernie's legislation in the Senate, particularly the (more...)

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