KGUN 9NewsLocal News


Tribe cites 169-year-old treaty as key argument against copper mining near reservation

Posted at 10:35 PM, Jun 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 01:41:08-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Wendsler Nosie Sr. said his family was part of an agreement made with the U.S. government 169 years ago.

"It goes back to my great-great grandfather when they did the 1852 treaty."

He said tribal leaders met with government officials back then.

"My great-grandfather was one of them."

The agreement settled which land would belong to Native people and the government, part of which currently sits near the San Carlos Apache Reservation, it's called Oak Flat, and it's sacred land to these people, especially for women the moment they're born.

"From that moment my preparation for this ceremony began."

Naelyn Pike, Nosie's grand-daughter, explains the ritual of the 'Sunrise Dance.'

"This ceremony is a coming-of-age ceremony for when we transform into a girl, into womanhood."

The location of this ritual, she said, remains an important aspect of a woman's spiritual upbringing.

"These moments intwine our lifeline to the land."

It's for this reason, among others, including the environmental impact of mining, the tribe is part of lawsuits against 'Resolution Copper' and 'Rio Tinto Mining' based in London, England.

"Anything that you see or read about in the treaty's agreements with the United States and the Native people, it specifically says 'no mining.' so all these things that are taking place are illegal."

Nosie is talking about treaties Native Americans made with the government in the 19th century but it was recent actions by Congress, a bill actually sponsored by John McCain in 2014, that 'Rio Tinto' tells KGUN9 gives them rights to mine here.

"I guess they're thinking that they got it through Congress that nothing mattered, treaties didn't matter," Nosie said.

Under the terms drafted by the late Republican Senator, a land transfer would take place that ultimately would pave the way for 'Rio Tinto' to mine for copper at this location.

"That's why they don't want to sit down and talk to tribal leadership, they do not want to sit down and talk to people like, religious leaders," Nosie said.

In a statement to KGUN9, 'Rio Tinto' said it continues:

"Ongoing consultation with local communities and Native American tribes to guide further shaping of the project, minimize impacts and build on the benefits it will deliver. Resolution copper will continue to engage with tribes and community members"

"They're kicking it to everybody that they're meeting, and working with the tribes, which is a false statement and that's why they will not meet with us directly," Nosie said.

'Rio Tinto' said it is years away from securing permits to begin mining and investors haven't even decided whether to fund this operation.

Multiple lawsuits against in opposition remain a hurdle for the project, that if manifested, could change the landscape for the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

"From our way of life to our cultural significance and our historical ties and our history; but then our spiritual beliefs will be completely gone," Pike said.

Nosie said if everything happens as they hope it could set a very important precedent.

"This will actually set the example in America, for the future, of how tribes and people can all work together and that's what I'm excited about, when we win this case."

He said more events, like Sunday's gathering, are planned across the state.