Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011

Floor Speech

By:  Ben Lujan, Jr.
Date: Oct. 26, 2011
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LUJÁN. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, my amendment is significant, but simple. My amendment does not kill this project. As offered, it simply asks the Congress to respect the religious and sacred sites of our tribal brothers and sisters.

This bill does little, if anything, to offer protection to the sacred sites in the area and does not offer true tribal consultation to the tribes. We all know that consultation occurs before, not after, decisions have already been made.

The tribes in this area believe Resolution Copper's block cave mining method will have negative impacts on their sacred, cultural, and traditional sites in the area.

Again, this amendment will not kill this project. It would show respect and offer protections to both surface and subsurface sites in the proposed land conveyance.

More specifically, my amendment states that ``The Federal land to be conveyed may not include any Native American sacred or cultural site, whether surface or subsurface.'' This amendment would merely offer a basic level of respect for many religious and cultural sites to the many tribes in the region.

As our good friend, Congressman Kildee, reminds us daily, we have a trust responsibility to our tribal brothers and sisters, and those who oppose this responsibility will dismantle it piece by piece with a scalpel and not all at once with an axe. This is what we're seeing today, Mr. Chairman.

In its current form, H.R. 1904 would approve a Federal land exchange to transfer ownership of 2,400 acres of land in the Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper for the purposes of block cave copper mine.

The Federal lands which are proposed to be exchanged, generally known as Oak Flat, are part of the ancestral lands of the San Carlos Apache tribe and other tribes in the region. These lands have unique religious, traditional, and archaeological significance to many tribes in southern Arizona. Behind me is a photo of one of those areas that's most sacred, Apache Leap.

You've heard from my colleagues on the other side of the aisle that their bill offers protection for sacred, traditional, and cultural sites in the proposed area to be exchanged, but I don't believe that to be true. If it were true, then why is every major tribal organization in the country opposing this bill?

It's because they do not believe these so-called protections to be real. Opposing organizations include, but are not limited to, the National Congress of American Indians, the United South and Eastern Tribes, the All Indian Pueblo Council of New Mexico, the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache Tribes of New Mexico, and many other tribes across the country.

Mr. Chairman, all of these organizations and tribal leaders know that the degradation of these cultural sites means a loss of identity and culture, not to mention utter disrespect for the religion and history of the tribes connected to this area.

Just to be clear: Supporting my amendment will not kill the project. It would simply mean respecting and preserving the religious, cultural, and archeological and historic significance of the lands that mean so much to the tribes in the region.

I urge my colleagues to support my amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. LUJÁN. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, look, just to be clear with this amendment, it does not kill the project. The amendment simply states that the Secretary will exclude sacred and cultural sites as identified by the Secretary. If we're serious about protecting sacred sites and respecting tribes across the country, I don't know why this is so complicated.

And the only area in the legislation, as we look at section 8 of the bill, talks about preserving and consulting with tribes about Apache Leap. But again, it's too little, too late. It's consulting after the fact, not before the legislation is taken into effect.

And so, Mr. Chairman, it's as if we were going to go into a site, say, the cathedral in Santa Fe or the Vatican in Rome, and they were going to go and do something to that land, and they said, well, don't worry, we have some other land that we're going to give you.

It's about the religious and sacred nature of these sites that we're talking about. At the very least, and of its very essence, let's look to see what we can do to preserve the government-to-government trust responsibilities that we have with our tribes and respect those religious sites, respect those sacred sites, and see what we can do to work collectively.

Again, this isn't going to kill the project. Let's work together to make sure that we respect the tribes that we're so honored to represent here in the Congress.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.


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