Apache Tribal Activists Fight to Reverse Land Grab of Sacred Arizona Site

Posted July 22, 2015

MP3 Interview with Wendsler Nosie, tribal council member and former San Carlos Apache tribal chairman, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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Arizona's Republican Sen. John McCain has been the focus of recent news headlines after GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump charged that McCain wasn't a hero for the time he spent in a North Vietnamese prison camp during the Vietnam War. That statement caused politicians from across the political spectrum to come to McCain's defense. But there's another group of people who don't consider McCain a hero – the 15,000 members of the San Carlos Apache tribe in McCain's home state of Arizona. The tribe is angry because McCain, and Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, attached an 11th hour rider to the National Defense Authorization Act last December that set up a swap of 2,400 acres of federal land, called Oak Flat campground, which is held as sacred by the Apaches. Under the terms of the land swap, Oak Flat will be traded to Resolution Copper Mining, a subsidiary of British-Australian mining conglomerate Rio Tinto, in return for more than twice as many acres in the state owned by the company. Oak Flat is not part of the Apache reservation, but has been set aside for their use for decades due to its cultural and religious significance. The tribe had no opportunity for meaningful input into the decision. The mining company has promised to create thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue.

After holding a sacred run to Oak Flat in early July, about 80 members of the tribe traveled to Washington, D.C. the fourth week of July to support a bill sponsored by Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva that would reverse the land swap. Members of the tribe and their supporters organized a day of prayer followed by a lobby day on Capitol Hill.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Wendsler Nosie Sr., a tribal council member and former tribal chairman, who is participating in the caravan to Washington, D.C. He says the land swap is a religious and human rights issue, and it’s undermining tribal sovereignty. Nosie also warns that if the swap is allowed to stand, other tribes with federal land set-asides that are not part of their reservations could suffer the same fate.

For more information, visit the San Carlos Apache Stronghold at apache-stronghold.com.

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