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President Obama's decree may save sacred Apache ceremonial land from being made into a copper mine

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Although Native Americans still want President Obama to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier - this is really the biggest wish most Natives seem to have - they are happy with Obama's decision to designate Oak Flat as a National Historic Place, which could ruin plans for transforming this ancient tract of Apache sacred land into a copper mine owned by foreign interests.

But the catalyst of this political maneuver was probably a direct result of New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is also listed as the Granite State's 'Junior Senator', which is really a misnomer because if Burning Bernie keeps up his major makh and mojo, he might just find himself in the Oval Office as Obama's Democratic replacement. According to a March 2 editorial in Indian Country Today Media Network written by Stephen Fox: "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."

But there are others at the federal level who don't care about treaty law, environmental concerns, or just doing what is fair and right. Arizona's Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar and Repug tea-bagging counterpart U.S. Sen. John McCain, senior Arizona Senator, joined forces last December with Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick to sell off this ancestral Native American land. They stuck a piece of legislation into a 1,600-plus page, comprehensive, national defense bill. Those close to this land-swap mess also say Jeff Flake, junior Arizona U.S. Senator, was involved.

Oak Flat is sacred Apache ceremonial land that needs to stay just the way it is - no copper mine could ever replace its pristine beauty.
Oak Flat is sacred Apache ceremonial land that needs to stay just the way it is - no copper mine could ever replace its pristine beauty.
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Gosar and McCain's nefarious scheming to to have Oak Flat made into a copper mine owned by an Australian-British corporation, Resolution Copper, may have been thwarted by Obama's decree, along with Sen. Sanders' hard work and diligence, but nothing is certain yet. There are no guarantees that even with a designation as a National Historic Place, the ultimate salvation from ruin of this large tract is a sure-fire go. And just like the devil, scheming tea-bagging rattlesnakes like the Arizona federal leaders involved with this sell-off never sleep. They are always looking for ways to make even the best of dreams virtual nightmares. All for the almighty dollar disguised under the All-American word 'PROGRESS'. This 2,400 acres of sacred ceremonial lands owned by the Apaches - known as Oak Flat or Chi'chil Bildagoteel - lies in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. Sites the Apaches call Apache Leap, a mountain held sacred by the San Carlos Apache Tribe, and even the Tonto National Forest, will be turned into caves, barren extraction areas spanning miles, and a desolate, environmentally hazardous landscapes if the copper mine sees its way here.

In protest, more than 300 Apache tribal members have occupied the site in protest since early 2015. They are determined to protect their ancestral grounds where girls hold their coming-of-age ceremonies, along with other sacred ceremonial rituals. It's a beautiful place of natural wonder and beauty, but where money is to be made, political prostitutes like Gosar, McCain, Flake, and Kirkpatrick also abound.

Canupa Gluha Mani, leader of the Strongheart Warrior Society, told this writer in a telephone interview early Monday morning (March 14): "On what grounds does White America have to take ceremonial land away? What authority do they have? The authority they claim to have is that they oversee and supersede issues when in fact, they don't. Some tribal governments default on the rights of indigenous people. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Whtie America can take our land away, extract minerals, and strip away everything in the interests of White America. Corporate America cannot extract the earth like this. What grounds do they have? It's their white supremacy. All these governments -- do they understand? The indigenous people - through the independence of their status - never relinquished their treaty obligations of their inherent status. This goes back to time immemorial. Today we have indigenous people who are warriors and who stand up for the rights of Native Americans. That's what Strongheart has done. We fight for the rights of Indian people. A dog soldier proverb is that 'A nation can never be conquered unless the hearts of our women are under the earth.'"

The Strongheart Warrior Society is based in South Dakota, is primarily comprised of Lakota Natives, but is involved in political, economic and social struggles that many American Indian tribes face. Canupa Gluha Mani, a full-blooded Lakota, told this writer during another telephone interview over the past winter that the Strongheart Warrior Society was actively involved with helping the Apaches fight this federal land-grab deal.

Apache spokesman Wendsler Nosie, Sr. wrote an open letter to U.S. Rep. Gosar that Oak Flat "has always been our connection to our Mother, our right to exist, a central part of our prayers, songs, stories and spiritual practices. It is from here that we emerged. It is who we are. We have lost so much."

In mid-March, Gosar threw Trump-like tantrum, throwing around his anger with these words: "Shame on the Park Service and Forest Service for ramming a bogus historic place listing down the throats of Arizonans. Clearly, the Obama Administration cares more about pandering to extremist environmental groups and a D.C. lobbyist from the Clinton Administration than following the law and listening to the American public. Oak Flat has never been a sacred site, as confirmed by the local tribe's own former historian. Yet, Obama's minions are hell-bent on sabotaging an important mining effort by listing a small, public campground 20 miles away from the nearest tribe's reservation as a historic site."

In a March 3 article that appeared in Tucson Weekly, Apache Stronghold Chief Organizer, Wendsler Nosie, is noted as saying: "Oak Flat, known to us Chi'chil Bildagoteel, has always been our connection to our Mother, our right to exist, a central part of our prayers, songs, stories and spiritual practices. It is from here that we emerged. It is who we are. We have lost so much. So many of our people, the original people of this land, have been wiped out, and those that remained were removed, exiled, from our indigenous lands and placed in concentration camps. Chi'chil Bildagoteel, our holy land, was put under the care of the U.S. government, and because of its uniqueness, the great value of maintaining its ecological and cultural integrity, protected by its laws. But now these laws are being subverted. The land handed over to foreign mining concerns through underhanded backroom deals by Arizona representatives in the U.S. Congress eliminates these protections."

This writer could not believe that federal legislators McCain and Gosar had the audacity to stick this sinister land-swap deal into the annual defense bill. I wrote about this surreptitious scheme here on then. At the time, this issue got little, if any, attention from the national mainstream media. But that's nothing new. They wouldn't know what actual news was if it actually happened to them. Oh, but wait, there's always Donald Trump. What did the old boy do today? We've got to cover it.

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Samuel Vargo worked as a full-time reporter and editor for more than 20 years at a number of daily newspapers and business journals. He was also an adjunct English professor at colleges and universities in Ohio, West Virginia, Mississippi (more...)

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