150 Years Later, Still Sticking It to Native Americans


Put this one in the category of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Or perhaps “Yes, Jeff Flake and John McCain are racist shills for the mining industry.”

It’s been just over 152 years since the Bear River Massacre. Bear River, I was surprised to learn, was the worst massacre of Native Americans to take place. I’d always thought that distinction went to Wounded Knee.

That was then. This is now, from Friday’s NY Times: Selling Off Apache Holy Land, by Lydia Millet. The focus of my daily reading is admittedly not Arizona-centric, but this one could not have been very widely reported for me to have missed it entirely. Millet explains in her piece how Flake and McCain, at the behest of their foreign-owned  corporate patron, Resolution Copper Mining, slipped a last-minute amendment into the defense authorization bill approving the transfer to Resolution Copper of ground sacred to the San Carlos Apache tribe.

McCain and Flake’s action was sleazy, even by Congressional standards, according to Millet:

The land grab was sneakily anti-democratic even by congressional standards. For more than a decade, the parcel containing Oak Flat has been coveted by Rio Tinto, Resolution’s parent company — which already mines on its own private land in the surrounding area — for the high-value ores beneath it.

The swap — which will trade 5,300 acres of private parcels owned by the company to the Forest Service and give 2,400 acres including Oak Flat to Resolution so that it can mine the land without oversight — had been attempted multiple times by Arizona members of Congress on behalf of the company. (Among those involved was Rick Renzi, a former Republican representative who was sent to federal prison in February for three years for corruption related to earlier versions of the land-transfer deal.) It always failed in Congress because of lack of support. But this time was different. This time, the giveaway language was slipped onto the defense bill by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona at the 11th hour. The tactic was successful only because, like most last-minute riders, it bypassed public scrutiny.

The swap approval triggered an occupation of the site that began in February, mostly by Apache, that continues to this day. 

How sacred is the site? Here’s how:

“Why is this place sacred?” said Wendsler Nosie Sr., a former chairman of the San Carlos Apache, in a recent interview with Cronkite News. “No difference to Mount Sinai. How the holy spirit came to be.” If you don’t want to take his word for it, the archaeological record at Oak Flat contains abundant evidence that the Apache have been here “since well before recorded history,” according to congressional testimony by the Society for American Archaeology.

Millet nails it in describing the gravity of the wrong committed here:

If Oak Flat were a Christian holy site, or for that matter Jewish or Muslim, no senator who wished to remain in office would dare to sneak a backdoor deal for its destruction into a spending bill — no matter what mining-company profits or jobs might result. But this is Indian religion. Clearly the Arizona congressional delegation isn’t afraid of a couple of million conquered natives.

In a just world, McCain and Flake would be done politically after this stunt, which not only was racist, but corrupt as well. McCain received campaign contributions from affiliates of Resolution Copper’s parent, Rio Tinto. Flake, before the start of his Congressional career, was a paid lobbyist for Rio Tinto. 

Unfortunately, for Democratic loyalists here, McCain and Flake are not the only Arizona pols corrupted by Resolution Copper. I found this tidbit at Southwest Photo Journal, a local blogsite:

White Mountain Apache Kay Lewis, a former tribal judge, wearing yellow pollen on his cheek noted Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick was raised on the WMA reservation where her father made his living from a Trading Post selling to the Apache and “she should know better”. “I was surprised”, Lewis noted, Apache are Democratic voters and they supported Kirkpatrick in her last successful re-election.”She used the Apache! She should know the Apache values, traditions, customs and ceremonies and she did not speak up for the Tribe on this land. The Apache are really done with her !”

In case you didn’t catch it above, yes, this swap that just was approved was indeed an updated version of the proposed swap that landed Rick Renzi in prison.

But the worst part of this, in my humble opinion, is not the behavior of Flake, McCain and Kirkpatrick. It’s how little attention it’s getting, and how disgusted Arizonans don’t seem to be by what’s happened. Millet is correct that the Arizona congressional delegation is not “afraid of a couple of million conquered natives.” Apparently, the rest of us couldn’t care less about those conquered natives.

That is truly tragic.


  1. Oak Flat is sacred not only to the San Carlos Apaches but to everyone who cares about the environment. Years ago we took our children on picnics on Oak Flat. It’s a beautiful place and Resolution Copper will ruin it for all of us. It will be destroyed and become a big, ugly hole in the ground–and all of us who care about the beauty of nature will be wounded, and all because of greed.

    • Thank you, Jana, for the links. I have seen the story at some of them but not all. I have contacted the senators and the representative.

  2. One of the reasons I think you see a lot of indifference about this is because we hear the mantra about “sacred land” so often. It is like the little boy who cried “Wolf!”…eventually people don’t pay any attention.

    • I’m guessing from your comment that you also side with Israelis who reject Jerusalem being holy to Muslims simply because Mecca and Medina are as well.

    • Native Americans lose not only their sacred land but even their right to define what is “sacred.” Perhaps their world views and religious definitions are more meaningful than a Euro-centric definition that too often sees only profit, exploitation, and the accumulation of vast wealth as “sacred.”

      • There is much to admire about the Native Americans philosophies and religions. In a more enlightened world, much could be learned from them. But we don’t live in an enlightened world, and they lose more battles than they win trying to use the same technique of calling all land “sacred land”. It is not a winning argument.

        • Steve, you’re making yourself a case in point on the lack of enlightenment. There are dozens and dozens of Native American tribes, each with its own religion and land that it considers sacred. So, yes, there are lots of places considered sacred when you add them all up. It’s really not all that hard to figure out.

          • That is true, and I had not thought of that. But that may also be part of the problem…most people don’t think that way, either. In any event, Bob, you have, once again, given me something to think about. It is probable that I spoke way too soon on a subject without giving it enough thought.

  3. Ann Kirkpatrick has been one the biggest supporters of mining on these sacred lands…

    • Yeah, I’m guessing there are members of the San Carlos tribe who consider having to vote in the 2016 Senate election a violation of their 8th amendment rights.

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