A US court decision may permit mining on Apache-sacred land

When a divided federal court panel voted 6-5 to uphold a lower court’s denial of a preliminary injunction to stop the project’s land transfer, an Apache group that has battled to protect land it considers sacred from a copper mining project in central Arizona suffered a serious setback. The goal of the Apache Stronghold organization has been to stop the mining project by stopping the U.S. government from giving Resolution Copper ownership of the Oak Flat property. The person spearheading Apache Stronghold’s defense, Wendsler Nosie, promised to appeal the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ judgment made by its unusual 11-member “en banc” panel to the United States Supreme Court.

 

“Oak Flat is like Mount Sinai to us — our most sacred site, where we connect with our Creator, our faith, our families and our land,” Nosie stated. “Today’s ruling targets the spiritual lifeblood of my people, but it will not stop our struggle to save Oak Flat.” A portion of the San Carlos Apache Tribe is represented by Apache Stronghold. The Western Apaches believe that Oak Flat, with its historic oak woods and other vegetation, is sacred to their religion. Additionally, Oak Flat is perched above the third-largest copper ore deposit in the world. The nearby town of Superior, as well as other historic mining communities in the area, strongly favor the development of a new copper mine due to the potential revenue and employment it would bring.

 

The project’s environmental impact survey was withdrawn while the U.S. Department of Agriculture held months-long consultations with Native American tribes and other interested parties to address their concerns. In an 1852 treaty between the United States and the Apaches, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, and other rights, Apache Stronghold sued the government to halt the land transfer. “Apache Stronghold was unlikely to succeed on the merits on any of its three claims before the court, and consequently was not entitled” to a preliminary injunction, according to the majority judgment of the appeals panel.

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