July 18, 2024
July 18, 2024
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10-year legal battle rages between Native Americans and mining interests over sacred land atop copper deposit

The ongoing conflict over Oak Flat, a parcel of national forest land in central Arizona, has become a battleground between Native American groups and mining interests, each vying for control over its future.

On one side, Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP, seeks to exploit the vast copper ore deposit beneath Oak Flat to establish a massive mine. Conversely, the nonprofit Apache Stronghold views the land as sacred and essential for their religious ceremonies, advocating for its preservation.

In a significant setback for Apache Stronghold, a federal court panel recently voted 6-5 to uphold the denial of a preliminary injunction to halt the land transfer for the mining project. Despite this ruling, Apache Stronghold has vowed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The timeline of events surrounding the Oak Flat dispute is as follows:

  • November 2013: Resolution Copper unveils its initial plan for a proposed mine at Oak Flat.
  • December 12, 2014: The U.S. Senate includes a provision in a military spending bill that authorizes the land swap, transferring Oak Flat to mining companies in exchange for other parcels in Arizona.
  • March 4, 2016: Oak Flat is added to the National Register of Historic Places, sparking opposition from Arizona lawmakers who support mining efforts.
  • May 24, 2020: Rio Tinto’s iron mining project in Australia destroys ancient rock shelters, leading to the CEO’s resignation.
  • January 12, 2021: Apache Stronghold files a lawsuit against the federal government, challenging the legality of transferring Oak Flat to Rio Tinto.
  • February 12, 2021: A federal judge dismisses Apache Stronghold’s request to block the land transfer, citing their lack of standing as a federally recognized tribe.
  • March 1, 2021: The U.S. Department of Agriculture halts an environmental review to consult further with Native American tribes.
  • October 21, 2021: Apache Stronghold appeals to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to prevent Rio Tinto from acquiring Oak Flat.
  • March 21, 2023: Apache Stronghold presents their case to the full panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, emphasizing the impact of the Resolution project on their religious practices.
  • March 1, 2024: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals votes 6-5 to uphold the denial of an injunction to stop the land transfer for the mining project.

The battle over Oak Flat continues to unfold, with both sides fiercely advocating for their respective interests in this contentious dispute.

10-Year Legal Battle Rages Between Native Americans and Mining Interests Over Sacred Land Atop Copper Deposit


For the past decade, a contentious legal battle has been unfolding between Native American tribes and mining interests over a sacred land situated atop a lucrative copper deposit. The dispute has sparked intense debate and raised important questions about indigenous rights, environmental conservation, and economic development.

Key Issues

  • The sacred status of the land for Native American tribes
  • The economic benefits of mining the copper deposit
  • The environmental impact of mining activities on the land
  • The legal framework governing indigenous rights and land use


The legal battle has encountered several challenges, including:

  1. Proving the cultural and spiritual significance of the land to the Native American tribes
  2. Balancing economic development with environmental conservation
  3. Negotiating a compromise that satisfies both parties

Case Studies

Several case studies have emerged from similar conflicts around the world, highlighting the complexities and nuances involved in such disputes. One notable example is the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, which garnered international attention and support.

Firsthand Experience

Individuals who have been directly involved in the legal battle, whether as activists, lawyers, or community members, offer valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities for resolution. Their firsthand experiences shed light on the human impact of the conflict.

Benefits and Practical Tips

Despite the contentious nature of the legal battle, there are potential benefits and practical tips that can guide stakeholders towards a more constructive dialogue and resolution. These include:

Benefits Practical Tips
Preservation of cultural heritage Engage in open and honest communication
Environmental conservation Seek common ground and mutual understanding
Respect for indigenous rights Consider alternative solutions and compromises


As the legal battle continues to rage between Native Americans and mining interests over sacred land atop a copper deposit, it remains crucial for all parties to engage in meaningful dialogue, respect each other’s perspectives, and seek a balanced solution that upholds indigenous rights, protects the environment, and promotes sustainable development.



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