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Tribes stampede Senate hearing

Posted: Wednesday, Feb 29th, 2012

Courtesy photo
National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel (also Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma) pledges support to San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler in opposing H.R. 1904. The bill is now in the Senate, after passing the Republican-dominated House of Representatives late last year. NCAI passed another resolution reaffirming its strong opposition to H.R. 1904, a sacred sites bill at their October Portland, Ore. mid-year Convention.

Washington, D.C. — Prestigious tribal leaders from across the Southwest and Northwest stood alongside Inter Tribal Council of Arizona President Shan Lewis (Ft. Mohave) to express unanimous opposition to H.R. 1904 at a recent Senate Hearing on Feb. 9, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

President Lewis provided testimony on behalf of the 20 Arizona tribes that strongly oppose H.R. 1904, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011, which seeks to transfer some 2,400 acres of federal lands located in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona to Resolution Copper Company (a subsidiary of foreign mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton) in order to mine copper. The lands to be transferred include Oak Flat, Gaan (Devil’s) Canyon, and Apache Leap. Collectively, the lands are sacred to Apaches, Yavapais, and other Native American groups who are historically and contemporarily connected to the copper rich region.

However, Arizona tribes are just a few of the hundreds of tribes, tribal organizations, and groups that oppose H.R. 1904.

What might have been seen as a singular San Carlos Apache Tribal stance against H.R. 1904 has exploded onto the national Native American scene where some 550 plus tribal governments and other allies are unifying to stop the bill in its tracks.

They have been lobbying the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill especially Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) who is Chairman of the Committee.

Senator Bingaman is familiar with the bill and with sacred sites, says All Indian Council Chairman Chandler Sanchez.

Senator Bingaman has been visited by numerous tribal leaders in his DC Office, all expressing opposition to H.R. 1904.

Including his home state New Mexico Tribes, who all oppose H.R. 1904.

New Mexico has dealt with its own fair share of sacred site issues including the revered Blue Lake debate. The struggle for Blue Lake, which is sacred to the Taos and other Pueblos, came to epitomize the Native American fight for religious freedom and practice that any college student taking a Native American Studies class would eventually study.

In 1974, the Taos People successfully reacquired the sacred Blue Lake from the U.S. government after much lobbying and alliances with other groups that strengthen their opposition.

Both New Mexico and Arizona are home to some forty one tribes that have strong traditions, language, and customs especially cultural religious beliefs that are predicated on sacred sites. Together, these states are home to some 490, 000 Native Americans, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Tribal leaders are again counting on Senator Bingaman to protect Oak Flat from mining activities.

Senator Bingaman’s DC Office was flooded with letters and resolutions from tribes, tribal organizations, and groups that oppose H.R. 1904.

The opposition from Native America is clear says Pueblo of Zuni Governor Arlen Quetawki, Sr. who was also present at the recent Senate Hearing. Senator Bingaman must weigh our concerns and consider the precedent that H.R. 1904 will have for sacred sites located on federal lands.

For Zuni People, this could mean that our sacred site of Salt Lake, home to “Salt Woman,” could again become threatened said Governor Quetawki.

Representatives from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the largest Native American Indian organization that includes some 550 plus tribes, were also present at the standing-room only hearing as were lobbyists and lawyers that represent tribes.

NCAI has and continues to oppose H.R. 1904.

Native organizations, tribal governments, and individual Natives that were unable to attend the Hearing in person tuned into watch the live webcast of the Senate hearing online.

Many of the organizations and individuals contacted the San Carlos Apache Tribe to share their thoughts and recommendations about the Hearing.

It is apparent that H.R. 1904 is not just a San Carlos Apache Tribal issue, says both Governor Quetawki and Chairman Sanchez, both powerful leaders in New Mexico. It is beyond the regional aspect of even Arizona because of the precedent it will set for tribes that have sacred sites located on federal lands and our inherit rights to practice our ancient religions.

Tribes carry serious clout. Collectively, tribes are top contributors to political campaigns and devote substantial funds to lobbying and legal fees in order to press their agendas on the national level. Tribes are also made up of tribal members who are dual citizens eligible to vote in tribal and non-tribal elections such as county, state, and national elections.

The recent Senate hearing has only amplified Native American interest in the dangers that H.R. 1904 poses for sacred sites.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe is sure to capitalize on the momentum in Indian Country, aided by their strong allies.

“We are in this together” says Chairman Sanchez.

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