indigenous land grab

By: Madeline McClure BHP and Rio Tinto, two of the world’s largest resource extraction companies, have earned themselves a solid reputation for obliterating native lands and communities throughout the world. Leaders in the international mining market, the British-Australian companies are globally condemned for their labor, environmental and human rights abuses. Today, they’re hard at work to expand that reputation to Arizona, where their jointly-owned company Resolution Copper advances toward the destruction of ancestral Apache land Oak Flat. Following the outcry caused by Rio Tinto’s deliberate gutting of 46,000-year-old Aboriginal sacred site Juukan Gorge in Western Australia, Rio Tinto and BHP voiced public concessions to work cooperatively with First Nations. In light of this media stunt, we ask what then of La Guajira, Colombia, where a humanitarian disaster has plagued Wayúu communities since BHP’s Cerrejón coal mine has stripped their land of its resources, and what of Oak Flat, where last week a lawsuit was issued by the San Carlos Apache to protect their land from Resolution Copper? From Australia to Colombia to Arizona, we have seen nothing from BHP and Rio Tinto but dismissal and denial in their placating treatment toward indigenous communities. In response, there have been calls to the United Nations for acknowledgment and support, demands to the corporations themselves for accountability, and movements from allying environmentalists, labor leaders, and activists to apply public pressure to government and business. Meanwhile, the line between government and business continually blurs as promises of economic stability and infrastructure seek to normalize the decimation of native land and culture, while a lobbied government permits and sanctifies it. Resolution Copper, the largest projected copper mine in the U.S., has been fought against for nearly two decades. The land is Chi'Chil Bildagoteel, or Oak Flat, a stretch of acorn groves, streams, medicinal plants, and petroglyphs, and is ancestral homeland to the Apache. Though the area is now considered Tonto National Forest and used frequently for public camping, hiking, and rock climbing, Oak Flat is Apache. Since forcibly removed in 1872, the San Carlos Apache have resided on what’s been called ‘Hell’s Forty Acres’ roughly 70 miles east of Oak Flat, where they remain prisoners of war despite the long-disregarded original treaty stating that first lands, including Oak Flat, belong to the Apache. “This erasure of Native Americans in contemporary terms perpetuates the genocidal history of America.,” Wendsler Nosie, former chairman of the San Carlos Apache tribe, states in a subcommittee testimonial. “What was once gunpowder and disease is now replaced with bureaucratic negligence and a mythologized past that treats we as Native people as something invisible or gone. We are not.” Working in solidarity with mined communities often carries the risk of physical harm. The concerted efforts between companies and government in Colombia, for instance, have made the creation of organized, united fronts life-threatening. La Guajira communities Caracolí and Espinal faced violent, forced displacement following a lawsuit against El Cerrejón for violating the 1991 Constitution, which promises ‘fundamental rights to health and physical integrity.’ The first lawsuit to hold the company accountable for its human rights abuses experienced a violent backlash. Several community members were injured in assassination attempts, with law school students assisting in the lawsuit forced to flee due to persistent death threats. Time to Shut It Down Environmental racism is at the heart of BHP and Rio Tinto projects such as El Cerrejón and Resolution Copper. These endeavors target native lands, who in turn are abandoned by governments and the international laws purported to protect them. It is left to people’s movements, led by the affected native communities, to fight back and preserve not only the fate of future generations but that of our climate. In a time when desperation for water resources are turned into coveted stock on Wall Street, why are we continuing to expand the largest extractive projects that our lands have suffered, knowing that mining is one of the most water-intensive industries on earth? These corporations violate our labor laws, lay ruin to our local ecologies, and perpetuate the genocide of indigenous nations. Enough is enough: together we must give a resounding ‘No!’ to this continued violence. Act now by visiting Apache Stronghold ‘Take Action’ site Tell Rio Tinto they are not wanted at Oak Flat Write to your Congress leaders to Save Oak Flat