The San Carlos Apache Tribe reached an agreement yesterday with the U.S. Forest Service to develop a Memorandum of Understanding to define the parameters of future government-to-government consultations concerning the proposed Resolution Copper Mine. The Tribe is opposed to the construction of the mine.
The agreement negotiated with Associate Deputy Chief Barnie Gyant is a major reversal of the Forest Service’s previous position when the agency refused to sign a MOU and subsequently failed to conduct government-to-government consultations as required by federal laws.
“The San Carlos Apache Tribe is cautiously optimistic that today’s agreement negotiated by Mr. Gyant marks a fundamental shift in the Forest Service’s approach in conducting future consultations with our Tribe and other interested parties over the proposed Resolution Mine that threatens to destroy an Apache sacred site at Chi’chil Bildagoteel, also known as Oak Flat,” said Terry Rambler, San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman.
“We have waited five years for the Forest Service to enter into a MOU that will define the parameters of consultation with the Tribe that is required under federal law,” Rambler said. “Today marks an historic change in the Forest Service’s relationship with our Tribe, Apache Stronghold, other interested tribes and other supporters with connections to Oak Flat.”
Federal law requires the Forest Service to conduct “meaningful” consultations with the tribes regarding the proposed mine.. Two foreign mining companies – BHP and Rio Tinto – intend to construct one of the largest copper mines in the world beneath Chi’chil Bildagoteel, which is located on the Tonto National Forest about 70 miles east of Phoenix.
Friday’s pledge by Mr. Gyant came a day after he visited Chi’chil Bildagoteel and listened to tribal religious leaders and other opponents of the mine describe the spiritual significance of Chi’chil Bildagoteel and the devastating impact the mine would have on Apache culture and religion, as well as on the environment and the region’s water supply. On Friday, Mr. Gyant told the San Carlos Council, the Tribe’s governing body, that he understood that Chi’chil Bildagoteel is a “holy” site and that any mining would destroy the area.
Mr. Gyant also pledged to incorporate in the consultation process several policies, adopted by the Biden Administration that will strengthen the role of the Tribe in the upcoming consultations.. These policies were advanced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalava, also an opponent of the mine.
The Tribe has requested assistance in analyzing the appraisal process, mining techniques, geological impacts, water resource impacts, toxic waste, tailings facilities, pipeline and utility corridor impacts, wildlife, and environmental impacts. Mr. Gyant also agreed to provide the Tribe with assistance in obtaining independent technical experts on a wide range of issues related to the upcoming rounds of consultation.
Special interest legislation sponsored by the late Senator John McCain was passed in December 2014 that would transfer ownership of Chi’chil Bildagoteel to Resolution Copper pending completion of an Environmental Impact Statement . The law was passed without transparency, debate, or regular process in the middle of the night behind closed doors as a rider in a defense spending bill during a lame duck Congress. The Tribe and the American public were given no opportunity to comment on these underhanded actions.
The Trump Administration published the EIS just days before President Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2021. The Biden administration subsequently withdrew the Final EIS on March 1, noting that the previous administration had failed to consult with the San Carlos Apache and eight other tribes that have significant ties to Chi’chil Bildagoteel.
The circumstances surrounding passage of the law that requires Chi’chil Bildagoteel to be traded to Resolution within 60 days of publication of the EIS makes it imperative that the Forest Service carefully and honestly engage in consultations with the Tribe and all other interested parties before another Final EIS is published.
The Tribe’s position is clear: The mine would destroy a fundamental pillar of Apache religion and culture and it is impossible to mitigate the damage that would be inflicted.
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