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Lawmaker calls on colleagues to support protections for Indigenous cultural sites

 Oak Flat, part of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona, is a site considered sacred by the Apache, and where the Resolution Copper is planning a mine.
Elias Butler Photography
Oak Flat, part of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona, is a site considered sacred by the Apache, and where the Resolution Copper is planning a mine.

News brief

How tribal leaders and members of Congress are advocating for the protection of Indigenous sites was top of mind at the recent National Native Media Conference in Phoenix.

A panel on cultural identity included Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the San Carlos Apache Tribe's historic preservation officer, the Arizona Republic's environmental and Indigenous affairs reporter, and the founder of NativesOutdoors.

They focused on the controversy surrounding the proposed copper mine beneath Oak Flat, an Apache religious site east of Phoenix. It's a conflict that reflects other battles involving public lands, resource extraction and sacred sites around the West.

Rep. Grijalva, a Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, says the protections for these sacred areas need to be put into law.

“You have to have them codified, otherwise we’re always fighting the fight," he said. "If we have a process that works, you still have a fight but you also have the acknowledgement that you’re sitting in this fight as equals, and not starting way behind.”

Examples of Indigenous efforts to protect sites considered sacred range from Chaco Canyon in New Mexico to Devils Tower in Wyoming and Spirit Mountain in Nevada.

Rep. Grijalva and New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich introduced legislation this summer that would elevate tribal management of public lands and protect tribal cultural sites. Last year, Grijalva also introduced the RESPECT Act, which would require federal agencies to consult tribal governments before certain actions.

“We’re not all the sudden being inconvenient by insisting on sacred sites being protected,” Grijalva said. “Tribes are not being obstructionists when their public health and the health of their communities are at stake.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 KUNM. To see more, visit KUNM.

Emma Gibson
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