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Oak Flat mining proponents act selfishly, short-sightedly and stupidly

Dirt roads line a neighborhood in the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona on April 9, 2015. (Ed Crisostomo/Orange County Register/TNS)

Native American tribes, notably the San Carlos Apaches, consider Oak Flat a sacred site, and the tribe has held religious and coming-of-age ceremonies there for generations. Thousands of climbers, hikers, mountain bikers, bird watchers and campers visit the Oak Flat campground and recreation area's distinctive volcanic features each year.

However, legislation to mine on Oak Flat, which many consider a gemstone of natural land, was stealthily attached to a defense bill and passed the U.S. House and Senate. 

Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, is on the side of environmental destruction in a debate that blew up nationally earlier this month. 

In a crafty publication, Gosar states, “See this mine for what it really is: an economic engine that will create good-paying jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign critical minerals and provide a much needed boost to our nation’s sluggish economy."

This mode of thought, which prioritizes economic stimulation over sustainable development, is self-exhausting. 

Looking at the issue on a 40-year time scale, Gosar makes a valid point and speaks to the minds of capitalist America. Right-wing conservatives gluttonously eat up phrases such as “create more jobs,” “boost economy” and “reduce dependence on foreign resources.” However, looking beyond a mere four decades, we will likely find ourselves just as economically well-off as when we launched the plan to devastate beloved natural lands. 

Once we have created those jobs, the beneficiaries of these jobs might buy that new Ford they have been dreaming of. The taxes generated by those jobs might pay for the new paved roads to cover the acceptable ones paved 10 years before. However, we will find that we must do it all over again.

These resources that we dig up, produce, consume and then waste are finite resources. We will always have foreign dependence on resources and foreign markets greatly benefit our economy in this globalizing world. Furthermore, in our move to extract finite resources, we will create a slur of environmental impacts, as well as sacrifice timeless cultural and social structures.

Not only will this mining project do little for our economic woes and ravage our natural environment, but the San Carlos Apache tribe will be stripped of land indispensable to Native identity and spiritual well being. Gosar states that the fact that Oak Flat is a sacred site for Native peoples is a myth. He tries to support this by stating the U.S. Forest Service does not register Oak Flat campground as a sacred site. 

It's criminal for anyone to uphold that agency's categorization of sacred land for Natives rather than the very people who developed a spiritual connection to the area. How barbaric of our current government to once again deny Native peoples access to lands. After all of the atrocities our government and people have inflicted upon Native Americans, we are continuing to sweep these injustices under a rug of white privilege and supremacy. 

When will our government finally begin to make amends for past misjudgments and racism? When will we finally learn from our dark history of mistakes? More importantly, when will we learn from these Native communities? It is an ironic injustice that we drive out the existence of the very people who hold the wisdom of securing our future from environmental issues such as climate change. 

Although it is not often discussed, Native peoples were the pioneers of sustainable values and ideologies. The Hopi’s spoke of preserving current livelihood for seven generations in the future. Natives have a strong spiritual connection to and respect for the land. Ancient Native American practices preach minimal waste and to only take what is needed. These perspectives are our only saving grace as our biosphere becomes increasingly ill — a physical actualization of the mental illnesses inside human beings who act in self-interest with little to no consideration for each other.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, policy makers. We aren’t considering many different ways to budget, stimulate our economy and benefit our future. To be frank, this is one of the reasons we are falling behind on the scene of global development. Our constant striving to further our ever-consuming economy is leading us toward extinction. Let’s hope we change our business-as-usual practices, before they become humanity’s extinction.

Related Links:

Higher-quality environmental education is essential for the planet

American Indians present on art and culture in environmental and social sustainability

Reach the columnist at or follow @ralydford on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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