San Carlos Apache Lose Land to Big Copper

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Oak Flat, Arizona, a sacred land reservation of the San Carlos Apache Native Americans, has long been under attack. Since 2008, the mining company Resolution Copper has sought to acquire the land, and after many years of lobbying politicians 2021 may be the year that they do.  Buried deep within the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), section 3003 aims to “authorize, direct, facilitate, and expedite the exchange of land between Resolution Copper and the United States.”

The NDAA became law earlier this year, however, the land transfer has yet to happen. As a last-resort, Apache people led by Wendsler Nosie Sr. and his coalition Apache Stronghold took to the courts, filing a lawsuit that aimed to repeal section 3003. However, on February 13, 2021, Phoenix Judge Steven Logan ruled that the lawsuit had no standing as Oak Flat was “not a sovereign nation.” If the 9th Circuit in San Francisco upholds Judge Logan’s decision, this sacred land reservation will be destroyed for the sake of corporate interests.

This raises concerns for tribal lands across the country. For the San Carlos Apache, Oak Flat is a place of worship — no different than a church, mosque, or synagogue is for individuals of other faiths. The destruction and desecration of Oak Flat sets a dangerous principle for the ways of natives that have survived despite centuries of invasion and colonization. As Nizhoni Pike, an Apache native who lives on the reservation, states, “We are going to lose a part of ourselves that can’t be replaced… And it’s more than us. If this can be allowed to happen, no religion is safe.” Section 3003 of the NDAA sets a principle: that the federal government prioritizes private interests over individual liberties. Furthermore, section 3003 continues the long history of the relocation, colonization, and oppression of Native peoples.

The Oak Flats story was reported by very few corporate news channels in the United States. Interestingly, foreign corporate news channels reported the story more than domestic ones. One such domestic corporate channel, NBC News, framed the story primarily from the perspective of Resolution Copper. By doing this, the NBC story effectively sidelines the cultural and environmental implications and disregards the perspective of the Apache natives. By contrast, the independent media source Who.What.Why. highlighted the land’s importance to the Apaches and their attempts to save it from colonization. This provided valuable insight into the people most impacted by this mining decision, but who have the smallest voices in how these decisions are made.

Source: Mort Rosenblum, “Last Dance at Oak Flat,” Who.What.Why., March 2, 2021,

Student Researchers: Ericka Thomas, Andrew Keblish, and Stephen Morales-Bergen (Queens College, City University of New York)

Faculty Evaluator: Roopali Mukherjee (Queens College, City University of New York)