To Be Destroyed

Oak Flat: the next sacred Indigenous land that is about to be destroyed for profit.


Americans may like to think that our country has learned from its past mistakes and will stop destroying sacred Indigenous land for money. However, the current Oak Flat land destruction tells a different story. For thousands of years, the Apache natives have considered the Oak Flat area as a sacred place where they go to pray, seek personal cleansing, and hold religious ceremonies. Additionally, it’s a popular campground and hiking destination with world-famous rock climbing areas.

Many endangered species and hundreds of migratory birds also call this place home. Because the Oak Flat holds one of the largest copper deposits in the world, it has also been prized by mining companies for years. Thus, President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared the area off-limits to mining in 1955. Unfortunately, when the ban was renewed in 1971, President Nixon added a loophole that allowed for the area to be mined if it were to be traded to private interests.

That’s what is about to happen now; ever since the last-minute addition to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act was passed, this land has been set to be transferred to Resolution Copper—a private mining corporation. The plan to destroy Oak Flat in favor of a massive copper mine, and in the process create a giant sinkhole about the size of the Eiffel Tower, would produce an estimated 1.6 billion tons of toxic mine waste. Furthermore, copper mines have a history of harming their surrounding areas.

Effects range from the contamination of farmland and waterways to the loss of fish and wildlife to increased risks to public health. Exposure to high levels of copper can cause inflammatory diseases, cardiac function disorders, kidney and liver damage, and potentially death. 

Apache people are currently suing the federal government for allowing this to take place, arguing that the land transfer would violate the 1852 Treaty of Santa Fe. They argue that the US doesn’t have the power to transfer Oak Flat, as the treaty guarantees land, property, and rights in Oak Flat to Apache nations. Recently, the courts disagreed with the lawsuit, whose ruling was backed by the Biden administration. 

This destruction of 2,400 acres of land and the subsequent environmental damage from the release of 1.6 billion tons of toxic mine waste and the harm to public health is preventable. This can be done by passing the Save Oak Flat Act of 2021. This legislation would stop the land transfer to Resolution Copper and help prevent future mining efforts to take place. 

Should the US government deny people the ability to visit their religious grounds, drink unpolluted water, and live without an increased risk of disease simply for being an Apache living near Oak Flat? Apaches believe that protecting their sacred place is the first step the U.S. can take to make up for the harm they have already inflicted.