Biden Giving Apache Sacred Land To Foreign Mining Corporation
The Biden administration’s policies towards domestic energy production and the protection of religious freedom are under scrutiny as a legal battle over the Oak Flat worship site in Arizona continues. The government has allowed a foreign-owned mining company, Resolution Copper, to take over the land sacred to the Apache Indian tribe.
The company plans to create a 1,000-foot crater to mine copper, permanently destroying the site and rendering the tribe’s religious practices obsolete. The case has gone to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which conducted a rehearing before the full court on Tuesday.
The suit, Apache Stronghold v. United States, argues that the destruction of Oak Flat violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and an 1852 treaty that promised the United States would protect Apache land and secure the tribe’s permanent prosperity. A ruling in the Apache’s favor would set a groundbreaking precedent for religious freedom protections under the First Amendment, especially as the Ninth Circuit deals with many religious freedom cases involving Native Americans.
The federal government’s support for Resolution Copper’s plans while blocking American companies’ drilling projects over environmental concerns raises questions about its priorities. Even as Joe Biden finally approved the Willow Project, an oil drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, he kept the rest of the Arctic indefinitely from new drilling. This move is part of Biden’s efforts to curb new oil drilling and expand the country’s green energy infrastructure, all at the expense of American oil and gas companies and the American public.
The case has attracted attention from Indigenous activists, environmental groups, and religious organizations that see it as crucial to the protection of First Amendment rights. An array of religious leaders is urging the court to uphold Apache religious beliefs, fearing that a ruling against the tribe could lead to setbacks for their rights. Meanwhile, pro-development interests and other Native people have filed “friend of the court” briefs supporting the project, which the mine’s owners say would create jobs and bring economic benefits to Arizona.
While the suit continues, the San Carlos Apache Tribe, a coalition of environmentalists and a mining reform organization have filed separate suits which are on hold until the U.S. Forest Service completes a new environmental impact statement, as ordered by the Biden administration. Resolution Copper is developing more robust community outreach, including cultural and environmental mitigation, as it prepares to start work.
The battle for Oak Flat won’t be settled anytime soon, and all parties have something to say. However, the case highlights the Biden administration’s contradictory approach to energy production and religious freedom. While foreign corporations are given free rein to damage sacred land, American companies are blocked over environmental concerns, revealing the government’s priorities. Protecting religious freedom and respecting the land’s sacred status should be paramount, regardless of corporate interests.