Grijalva Hosts Tribal Sovereignty Roundtable Today, Will Accept More Than 1 Million Petition Signatures on Protecting Sacred Land

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, the Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee, will accept more than 1 million petition signatures from a broad coalition of activists at a roundtable today in favor of protecting the Oak Flat area of Arizona sacred to the Apaches, the Yavapai and other Native Americans. Because of a last-minute Republican addition to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) forcing a federal land trade – which the House had failed to pass as a standalone bill – Oak Flat and the surrounding area are currently at risk of destructive block cave mining by a company called Resolution Copper, which was formed by multinational mining conglomerates BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto specifically to take over and develop the site.

Grijalva is hosting a roundtable with Native American leaders this afternoon on Capitol Hill to discuss the importance of conserving Oak Flat and other sacred tribal land. The roundtable will focus on opposition to the dangerous precedent being set in Arizona – a precedent opposed by Avaaz, CREDO, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, which will jointly submit petitions from their members to Grijalva at today’s event supporting continued conservation for Oak Flat.

Grijalva has been a champion of protecting Oak Flat for years and led the congressional opposition to last year’s NDAA amendment. He spoke at an August event with San Carlos Apache leaders at the U.S. Capitol about the need for greater congressional respect for tribal sovereignty. The Tribe’s campaign to protect Oak Flat has been profiled in the New York TimesRolling Stone, Indian Country Today and many other publications.

A panel of six tribal speakers at today’s event will discuss why this case raises serious concerns across Indian Country and opens the door to further congressional breaches of trust and treaty obligations.

Today’s event is free and open to the media. It will be livestreamed at 2:30 p.m. at http://1.usa.gov/1l7Q9qL (the Natural Resources Committee website) and http://bit.ly/1RTCwWe (YouTube).

“The Oak Flat ‘Land Exchange’ is just wrong, plain and simple, and it violates the moral and legal obligations the United States owes to Native American tribes,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.). “We must respect the historical and religious significance of the lands the tribes hold sacred. We as a Nation have a duty to respect minority groups, especially ones that have been so egregiously wronged in the past.”

“The proposed land exchange of Oak Flat is an inexcusable affront to our country’s treaty and trust obligations to preserve Native American cultural and sacred sites,” said Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.). “We owe Indian Country more than that. These irreplaceable treasures deserve to be preserved for generations to come, not traded off for temporary profits.”

“This land exchange fails to live up to the federal government’s trust responsibility to protect these lands by paving the way for block mining that will irreversibly damage a sacred site that is part of the ancestral homeland of the San Carlos Apache tribe,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who offered an amendment when the 2014 NDAA bill was debated on the House floor that would have protected Native American sacred and cultural sites in the land exchange. “Sacred sites like Oak Flat are an essential part of the culture and heritage of tribal communities. The degradation of these sites means a loss of identity as well as disrespect for the faith, religion, and history of our tribal brothers and sisters who are connected to these lands.”

“Oak Flat is a sacred site for the Apache people,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. “A great injustice was done when this holy and protected place was given away to a foreign corporation in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act.  Today, my colleagues, hundreds of Americans and I are speaking out against this injustice and voicing our opposition to policies that disrespect public lands and limit the religious liberty of Native American tribes.”

“I’m proud to work with Congressman Grijalva to protect tribal rights and preserve sacred lands,” said Rep. Michele Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.). “The federal government’s trust responsibility is paramount to our nation-to-nation relationship with tribes. Congress has an obligation to its tribal neighbors, and I will do everything to ensure that we meet that responsibility.”

“It should be no surprise that there is a tremendous desire from people across the country to save Oak Flat. The cultural and natural importance of this site should not be sacrificed to mining,” said Athan Manuel, director of Sierra Club's Lands Protection Program

“The fight to save Oak Flat will succeed,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “People from across the country, and even around the world, are outraged by what’s happened with Oak Flat and won’t stand by to see our public lands and Native American sacred sites be destroyed for profits.”

“There are few things more brazen than seizing sacred land from Native Americans so it can be mined by a multinational corporation,” said CREDO Communications Director Josh Nelson. “Congress can and should reverse this deeply undemocratic land grab without delay.”

“Oak Flat should be protected, not plundered,” said Nick Kimbrell, a senior campaigner with Avaaz. “Over a million people in the U.S. and around the world are calling on Congress to stop this act of cultural vandalism and set a precedent for governments everywhere to protect native peoples and their sacred sites.”

"More than 5,000 individuals from around the country have signed the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition's petition to repeal the Oak Flat land exchange, which was attached to last year's Defense spending bill," said Roger Featherstone, Director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition. "The Coalition is passionate about the protection of Oak Flat for cultural, recreational, ecological, and fiscal reasons. We fully support H.R. 2811 and urge full support for the protection of Native American sacred sites on public land."

“Many Federal lands across the country were carved out of the ancestral lands of Indian tribes, but the historical and spiritual connections our people have to these lands have not been extinguished,"said Brian Howard of the National Congress of American Indians. "Unfortunately many of these lands face the threat of transfer from federal oversight to private or commercial entities for development purposes that would disturb or destroy the historical, environmental, and cultural significance of these areas. The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Act was a prime example of federal lands being transferred for commercial mineral extraction. Inclusion of the Act in the must-pass 2015 National Defense Authorization Act not only failed to follow a transparent and appropriate legislative process, it set a dangerous precedent for the transfer of Federal lands that were inclusive of a place of sacred, cultural significance to the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona. NCAI continues to stand with the San Carlos Apache and all tribes across the country in efforts to protect and preserve our sacred places so that our future generations may still access these areas to can carry on our vital traditions and religious practices.”

Where: 2226 Rayburn House Office Building

When: 2:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Witness Panel

The Honorable Paulette Jordan, Secretary, National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA)
The Honorable Brian Patterson, President, United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. (USET)
The Honorable Fawn Sharp, President, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI)
The Honorable Terry Rambler, Chairman, San Carlos Apache Tribe
The Honorable Wendsler Nosie, Councilman and Member of Apache Stronghold
Naelyn Pike, San Carlos Apache Youth Tribal Member and Member of the Apache Stronghold

For more information or to RSVP, please contact Bertha Alisia Guerrero, Director of Public Engagement for the House Natural Resources Committee Democrats, at Bertha.Guerrero@mail.house.gov.

Press Contact

Adam Sarvana

(202) 225-6065 or (202) 578-6626