Lame Duck Alert: Protect Sacred Sites - Oppose H.R. 687/S. 339

Thanks to your efforts during the 113th Congress, Indian Country succeeded in stopping efforts to enact H.R. 687 and its identical Senate companion bill, S. 339, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange.  As you know, these bills would result in the destruction of a Native sacred area currently located on U.S. Forest Service lands.  

We understand that proponents of the bill have worked to include the legislation in a public lands package that could be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  Leaders on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the House Natural Resources and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committees are negotiating final touches to the package that could move the week of December 3, 2014. 

S. 339/H.R. 687 would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to convey over 2,400 acres of U.S. Forest Service land in southeast Arizona in an area known as Oak Flat to a mining company called Resolution Copper (RC), which is owned by the foreign mining giants Rio Tinto PLC (United Kingdom) and BHP Billiton Ltd (Australia). The mining company seeks to develop and operate an unprecedented large-scale copper mine on this land. 

The lands have significant religious, cultural, historical, and archeological value to Apache, Yavapai and other tribes in the region.

S. 339/H.R. 687 are bills of national significance for Indian tribes nationwide, as it is the only legislation pending in Congress that would transfer a known Native sacred site into the private ownership of foreign mining companies and result in the destruction of a site that is sacred to Native Nations in the region.

S. 339/H.R. 687 would set dangerous precedent by saying that it is okay for Congress to destroy Native American sacred sites, religion, culture, and identity, in the for-profit pursuit of the extraction and sale of minerals and other natural resources by foreign companies.  Tribal governments have fought for centuries to retain these core values and set up alternative mechanisms for securing natural resources without disturbing sacred lands.

Recognizing this danger, many tribes across the country and a number of tribal organizations have adopted resolutions and written letters opposing this bill.  Tribal organizations opposing this bill include the National Congress of American Indians, the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., the Intertribal Council of Nevada, the All Indian Pueblo Council, the Eight Northern Indian Pueblo Council, the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians, the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association, the Coalition of Large Tribes, the Alaska Inter- Tribal Council, the California Association of Tribal Governments, the United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc, and many others.

Please consider calling, e-mailing and writing your U.S. Senate delegation, Senate leadership, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee leadership, and Senate Armed Services Committee leadership today, urging them to NOT include S. 339 in any year-end legislation during the lame duck session of Congress.

Attached is a draft letter that would go to the top two Senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee for your consideration.  Please contact Danielle Her Many Horses at dhermanyhorses@indiangaming.org if you have any questions or concerns.


November 20, 2014

The Honorable Carl Levin, Chairman                        The Honorable Jack Reed, Member
Senate Armed Services Committee                          Senate Armed Services Committee
228 Russell Senate Office Building                           728 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510                                            Washington, D.C. 20510
E-mail: Jack_Danielson@levin.senate.gov                E-mail: Carolyn_Chuhta@reed.senate.gov     Peter_Levine@armed-services.senate.gov

Re:      Opposition to inclusion of S. 339/H.R. 687, Southeast Arizona Land Exchange of 2013, in the National Defense Authorization Act

Dear Chairman Levin and Senator Reed:

I write on behalf of the ____________ to urge you not include S. 339/H.R. 687, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013, in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) or any other bill that the Senate Armed Services Committee may consider this year.  Members of the House of Representatives, Indian tribes, tribal organizations, and many other non-Native groups oppose this controversial bill because it constitutes a federal earmarked giveaway of American resources to a foreign corporation doing business with the Iran Foreign Investment Corporation, it would destroy a known Native sacred area, it would harm the already depleted watershed in the region, among other reasons detailed below.

Including S. 339 / H.R. 687 in the National Defense Authorization Act is inconceivable.  The bill earmarks a land transfer to Resolution Copper Mining (RCM). RCM' parent corporation, Rio Tinto, has a longstanding partnership with the Government of Iran, through the Iran Foreign Investment Company (IFIC), in the Rössing Uranium Mine in Namibia, Africa.  The Institute for Science and International Security issued a report on October 24, 2013, stating that the Government of Iran may be in proximate possession of weapons-grade uranium.  Given the relationship between Rio Tinto and Iran in joint ownership of a uranium mine and the grave threats to national and global security through the transfer of precious American taxpayer assets to Rio Tinto, S. 339/H.R. 687 should not be considered for inclusion in the NDAA.  Instead, we ask that the Senate Armed Services Committee question Rio Tinto and Resolution Copper on Iran's access to technology and materials as well as financial benefits through this partnership.

The IFIC is a long-term partner in the Rössing Uranium Mine, since 1975, and has been an active participant at Rössing board meetings.  In 2010, it was reported that two representatives of the IFIC sat on Rössing's Board of Directors, including one who is an accomplished chemical engineer.  On August 3, 2010, the U.S. Treasury Department placed the IFIC on the Iranian Transactions Regulation list.  As you are aware, U.S. companies are prohibited from doing business with entities on this list. Despite being placed on this list, Rio Tinto has continued its partnership with the IFIC in the Rössing Uranium Mine and publicly stated that sanctions do not prevent Iran from maintaining an existing interest in commercial uranium.

In the 112th Congress, during a legislative oversight hearing on the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange on February 9, 2012, former Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman questioned Resolution Copper's Vice President about Rio Tinto's partnership with the IFIC in the Rössing Uranium Mine.  Former Chairman Bingaman asked, "Is Rio Tinto still the majority share holder at that mine, and is the Iranian Foreign Investment Company still a partner?" Resolution Copper answered in the affirmative that Rio Tinto is the majority shareholder of Rössing Uranium Limited (69%) and that the IFIC continues to own a 15% stake in the Mine.

S. 339 / H.R. 687 is hugely controversial and widely opposed by Indian tribes, the Administration, and a large number of Members of the House of Representatives.  As a result, it should not be added to the NDAA, which is generally a non-controversial measure.

Importantly for Indian Country, hundreds of Indian tribal governments, tribal organizations, and many other groups nationwide strongly oppose S. 339 / H.R. 687.  The bills hold national policy significance because it is the only bill pending in Congress that would transfer federal land that encompasses a known Native sacred site to a private mining company.  The unprecedented large-scale copper mine would destroy the sacred Oak Flat area.  This public land has significant religious, cultural, historical, and archeological value to tribes in the region. President Eisenhower protected the lands from mining in the 1950s through a public lands order.

The Obama Administration does not support this legislation partly because this federal land is a tribal sacred site.  This land is also a traditional cultural property eligible for protection under the National Historic Preservation Act.  We believe, at a minimum, this land should remain under federal jurisdiction for protection instead of being conveyed to a private foreign mining company whose project will collapse the surface of the earth and destroy the unique sacred and cultural sites located there.

House of Representatives Leadership pulled H.R. 687 from floor action twice - on September 26, 2013, and November 13, 2103 - due to concerns that the bill did not have the votes for passage due to tribal opposition and growing opposition by both House Republican and Democratic Members.

For these reasons, we ask that you not include S. 339/H.R. 687 in NDAA or any other legislative package that the Committee may consider this year and further ensure that this bill does not pass. Thank you for your consideration of this important request.

Sincerely,