Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:  Ben Lujan, Jr.
Date: Sept. 26, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BEN RAY LUJÁN of New Mexico. Mr. Chairman, I rise today to offer an amendment that would protect Native American sacred and cultural sites associated with the land conveyance outlined in the bill. This bill transfers land out of the public domain and into the hands of a private mining company with no guarantee of protecting sacred sites.

Currently, the cultural and sacred sites of Apache Leap and Oak Flat are located on public land and not on an Indian reservation. Although these sites are not on an Indian reservation, they're still sacred to the San Carlos Apache, Yavapai Indian Tribe, and other tribes in Arizona, just as a Catholic church, where I practice my faith, is considered a holy place even though it's not located in Vatican City.

Because these sacred and cultural sites are currently on public land, they are protected under certain Federal laws. This bill would transfer the lands that contain these sacred sites to a private company for private ownership, effectively taking away any protections under Federal law.

Additionally, it is important to protect the subsurface area of these sacred sites, which this bill does not do. Native American sacred sites, just as a church or temple, have both surface and subsurface religious quantities. Would we allow subsurface mining below the National Cathedral? I would say not.

I have heard from my colleagues the mining would take place below the ground and therefore leave the sacred sites undisturbed, but this is a rather absurd argument and, quite honestly, not factual.

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Mr. BEN RAY LUJÁN of New Mexico. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.

I don't know where to begin with the comments suggested by one of my colleagues whom I respect, Mr. Gosar. I don't know how to be more clear.

These sacred sites are on public land. I think it would be a new low for this Congress to go and tell tribes across America that sacred sites that are not

located on a reservation are no longer sacred. I'm surprised. I'm appalled. I think tribes across the country would be, as well.

With regard to sections 4(i) and 4(j), I ask the author of the legislation to come back and read it with me. The way that I read this, there's only one section of law that is referred to that can't be enforced because this is on private lands, not on public lands; and the area that's identified in the law is the National Environmental Policy Act.

What happens when this land is given from a public perspective back to a private perspective is we lose the opportunity and ability to enforce the National Historic Preservation Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and the administration's December 2012 memorandum of understanding to protect sacred sites.

Mr. Chairman, I submit into the Record all the organizations across America, including all the tribes from Arizona, that are opposed to this underlying legislation.

Mr. Chairman, I have here not a picture of Apache Leap, but a picture of what happens with blockade mining. So even in the poor attempt that talks about trying to address Apache Leap, the author of the legislation failed to include Oak Flat, which is a sacred site that would be covered here.

This is what happens with blockade mining. Don't take my word for it, as I will submit into the Record a presentation by Resolution Copper Mining. In this, which I wish I would have blown up, Resolution Copper shows pictures of how this starts to cave in. It will eventually look like this.

Mr. Chairman, this is a commonsense piece of legislation. In your words, this will improve the law. This will improve what we're trying to do here. This doesn't give the Secretary blanket authority to do anything.

Let's just protect sacred sites and work together. The Congress has always done this. There's a reason why Democrats and Republicans have come together to create a Native American Caucus and to advocate for tribes across America. The Congress has always stood strong.

Mr. Chairman, I ask my colleagues to please give due consideration and support this amendment. I hope to work with the majority and Chairman Hastings, whom I respect very much, to try to get this addressed.