Congress now has the opportunity to correct a travesty that occurred in 2014 when a last-minute, nongermane provision was inserted, without debate, into the annual National Defense Authorization Act that threatens to destroy a Native American religious site in Arizona by passing the Save Oak Flat Act.
The current legislation, introduced by House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) would repeal Section 3003 of the NDAA for fiscal year 2015 that authorized the Southeastern Arizona Land Exchange between foreign-owned Resolution Copper Company and the Tonto National Forest. Among the 2,422 acres of public land that would be transferred to Resolution is Chí’chil Biłdagoteel, which is also known as Oak Flat. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Chí’chil Biłdagoteel has served as a culturally significant and sacred site to many tribal nations in the region for the past 1,500 years. The site was designated by the National Park Service as a Traditional Cultural Property in 2016 and included on the National Register of Historic Places. The Tonto National Forest has recognized the site as having physical and spiritual integrity essential to the continuation of traditional Western Apache cultural practices, particularly to the San Carlos Apache Tribe.
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