It’s like President Obama can’t go a day without infuriating the Right over something stupid. On Thursday, Tuscon Weekly reported that a member of the party that constantly introduces dubiously-named “religious freedom” legislation has no respect for the religious practices of Native Americans. Republican Congressman Paul Gosar is furious that President Obama thwarted his effort to sell an Apache holy site to foreign business interests.
Joining with Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick — a Democrat who bears equal shame in this horrific endeavor to place greed over decency — attempted to have an area known as Oak Flat, or Chi’chil Bildagoteel, sold to British-Australian owned Resolution Copper in what would have marked the first time in history that Native American land would be handed over to foreign interests by Congress.
To protest the attempt to sell of holy land, 300 Apaches marched 44 miles to occupy the ancient sacred ground where the New York Times reports coming-of-age ceremonies, especially for girls, have been performed “for many generations, along with traditional acorn gathering.” The area has been closed to mining since 1955 when then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized the importance of protecting the land. The ban was reinforced in 1971 by the Nixon administration. Though the land is protected, Kirkpatrick and Gosar managed to slide a provision that would hand the land over to the mining company into the National Defense Authorization Act. The Times reports that:
The land grab was sneakily anti-democratic even by congressional standards. For more than a decade, the parcel containing Oak Flat has been coveted by Rio Tinto, Resolution’s parent company — which already mines on its own private land in the surrounding area — for the high-value ores beneath it.
The swap — which will trade 5,300 acres of private parcels owned by the company to the Forest Service and give 2,400 acres including Oak Flat to Resolution so that it can mine the land without oversight — had been attempted multiple times by Arizona members of Congress on behalf of the company. (Among those involved was Rick Renzi, a former Republican representative who was sent to federal prison in February for three years for corruption related to earlier versions of the land-transfer deal.) It always failed in Congress because of lack of support. But this time was different. This time, the giveaway language was slipped onto the defense bill by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona at the 11th hour. The tactic was successful only because, like most last-minute riders, it bypassed public scrutiny.
Unfortunately for the duo, the Obama Administration swooped in to save the day. The Park Service and Forest Service listed the land as a historic location, thus preventing the sale — and Gosar is furious. In a press release, the Congressman melted down over the bad (for him) news:
“Shame on the Park Service and Forest Service for ramming a bogus historic place listing down the throats of Arizonans. Clearly, the Obama Administration cares more about pandering to extremist environmental groups and a D.C. lobbyist from the Clinton Administration than following the law and listening to the American public. Oak Flat has never been a sacred site, as confirmed by the local tribe’s own former historian. Yet, Obama’s minions are hell-bent on sabotaging an important mining effort by listing a small, public campground 20 miles away from the nearest tribe’s reservation as a historic site.”
While Gosar claims the site has never been sacred, the Apache people disagree. “Why is this place sacred?” former chairman of the San Carlos Apache, Wendsler Nosie Sr., mused. “No difference to Mount Sinai. How the holy spirit came to be.” This claim has been backed by Scientists for the Society for American Archaeology, who testified before Congress that archaeological evidence shows that the site has been used for religious purposes since “well before recorded history.”
Demonstrating Republicans’ impressive ability to ignore facts, Gosar insists that “This fraudulent action is the latest in a long list of egregious bureaucratic abuses of power by the Obama Administration.”
“Oak Flat, known to us Chi’chil Bildagoteel, has always been our connection to our Mother, our right to exist, a central part of our prayers, songs, stories and spiritual practices. It is from here that we emerged. It is who we are,” Nosie wrote in a press release. “Chi’chil Bildagoteel, our holy land, was put under the care of the U.S. government, and because of its uniqueness, the great value of maintaining its ecological and cultural integrity, protected by its laws.”
While Gosar, or Republicans in general for that matter, care not for any religion besides Christianity, this halting of an extraordinarily offensive abuse of Congressional power should serve as a lesson that no matter how hard the GOP tries, reasonable and right-thinking people will always be here to stand in the way of these abuses.
Featured image via EarthWorks Action