House Bill Proposes to Sell National Forest Land to Copper Mining Firm

Oct 2, 2013

The House is poised to approve H.R. 687, which would authorize the sale of 2400 acres of the Tonto National Forest in southeastern Arizona to a copper mining partnership. Contrary to the requirements of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and Executive Order 13007 on Indian sacred sites, tribes in the area have not been consulted. Indeed every tribe in Arizona, and many tribes across the country, have registered their opposition to this land swap.

The area in question is not on reservation lands, but it includes burial grounds and a sacred site known as Oak Flat, a place of worship where Apache, Yavapi, and other Native Americans have prayed, gathered medicinal herbs and plants, healed in holy perennial springs, and performed religious ceremonies since time immemorial. U.S. history recounts the many times that Indian tribes were forced to give up millions of acres of their tribal homelands. The acres reserved to them are often adjacent to lands they had to give up – adjacent, therefore, to lands on which burial grounds and other sacred places are located.

More recently, U.S. laws and practices have begun to acknowledge federal obligations to protect sacred sites on federal lands. If those federal lands are sold to private owners, however, the protections vanish. FCNL joined with more than 100 tribes, tribal organizations, religious and environmental organizations to oppose this land swap. The House debated the bill for two hours on Thursday, September 26 and considered three amendments, but the leadership never called for a final vote. See FCNL’s memo to Congress, and the list of opposing tribes and organizations.

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