- What is Oak Flat?
Situated a few miles East of Superior, Arizona, Oak Flat is a part of the Tonto National Forest. The Apache name for Oak Flat is Chi’chil Bildagoteel. It is an area that is sacred to the Apache people for religious and cultural reasons. This scenic area is also rich in wildlife and is ideal for outdoor recreational activities such as rock climbing and birding.
- Why is this land important?
There are several reasons that the conservation of Oak Flat is important. Oak Flat is sacred to the Apache peoples. The land was once a part of their reservation but was taken away from them when reservation borders were re-drawn by the federal government. Despite this, the land has continued to be a large part of the tribe’s spiritual practices. It is the site of many important ceremonies and religious traditions. The land also contains petroglyphs, burial grounds, and ancient oak trees whose acorns are used in traditional Apache foods.
Additionally, Oak Flat rich in wildlife of all kinds, from the bobcat to the endangered Arizona Hedgehog Cactus. There is an extremely rare riparian ecosystem on the nearby Gaan Canyon that is brimming with life.
Oak Flat is also a recreational area that draws people from all over the world. Hikers,
climbers, birders, and families enjoy the beauty
of this area year-round. Undeveloped land is becoming increasingly rare and it is crucial that we preserve whatever spaces we can, especially when they are places of breathtaking beauty.
To view more images of this beautiful land, check out the work of Anna Jeffrey.
- What is Resolution Copper?
Resolution Copper is an Australian/British mining conglomerate that is a combination of the Rio Tinto Group and BHP. It is one of the largest mining companies in the world. In the past, Rio Tinto has been criticized by environmentalists and labor rights groups alike for their irresponsible practices.
- How did Resolution Copper get the right to mine on Oak Flat?
For the past decade, pro-mining members of Congress have tried to pass laws that would allow Resolution Copper to mine a copper deposit located underneath Oak Flat. In 2014 Senator John McKain (Arizona) and other Congresspeople slipped legislation that would do just that into the Defense Authorization Act. This act was approved and signed into law, which means that the land is now facing privatization by Resolution Copper.
- What is block caving?
Block caving is the type of mining that Resolution Copper plans to use on the Oak Flat land. Block caving is an underground method of mining copper in which a large section of rock is cut from under the ore, causing the ore to collapse under it’s own weight. To learn more, watch this video.
- How will the block-caving mine effect the land?
This method of mining has many detrimental effects on the surrounding land. One effect is subsidence, or sinkholes, on the surface of the land. When supporting rock underneath the surface is removed, it causes a gradual sinking on the surface, resulting in a crater-like depression in the earth, as pictured below. The subsidence zone is expected to be up to 2 miles wide and 100 feet deep, which would permanently alter the land at Oak Flat.
Water contamination and waste is another concern. To function the mine requires the removal of water to keep the mine shafts dry. This will alter water drainage and groundwater flow patterns. This mine will use an estimated 20,000 acre feet of water per year- enough to provide water for 20,000 families or 80,000 people for an entire year. Water is a precious resource that must be protected.
The mine will also produce an estimated 1.5 billion tones of tailings (the materials left over after the process of separating the copper from the unusable part of the ore). These tailings must be disposed of somehow (Resolution Copper has not yet specified where they will be stored) and may be released into the environment, which can cause many issues including water pollution. Even if tailings are properly stored, there is the risk of water and soil contamination via acid drainage or other means.
The mine will disrupt an ecosystem where a diverse array of wildlife currently live. These precious plants and animals will have their lives and homes destroyed if the mine is built, and the current biodiversity will be replaced with a barren wasteland.
- Why do some people say Oak Flat is not sacred?
There have been claims by some people that Oak Flat is not sacred. However, many of these claims have been made by people who work with or for Resolution Copper. As we work in solidarity with the many First Nations People around the world fighting for their freedom, we must not fall prey to rumours and myths.
We trust and believe the words of the many Apache elders who have shared their beliefs that Oak Flat is indeed a holy place. We also respect the fact that the tribal chairman of the San Carlos Apache Nation is in full support of protecting Sacred Oak Flat, as are many folks who work in the tribal government. As with any issue, Oak Flat is not free from controversy; but that does not mean it is not a real issue. Oak Flat matters and is connected the the greater worldwide struggle for Indigenous peoples’ rights.
- Why walk to Arizona?
When we learned about this proposed mine and began to share the Oak Flat story with our friends and family, we found that many people are completely unaware of this issue. Our goal in walking from our hometown of Bainbridge Island, Washington, all the way to Oak Flat was to raise awareness and give a call to action. Everyone has a voice, and we believe that one of the best ways to protect our planet is to use our voices (and our legs!) to spread the word. We dream of a world where preserving nature is a top priority. We hope you’ll join us in making that dream become a reality.
- What can I do to help?
Thank you for your interest! There are currently two bills in Congress that need your support. If you are financially able you can also donate to our fund. Check out the “How You Can Help” tab to learn more.
- What will my donation go towards?
Now that we are back home, we continue to raise awareness for Oak Flat through giving public presentations, writing articles, and other means. It takes a lot of volunteer time to continue this fight, and we often face fees to rent out spaces where we can give our talks. Every dollar helps us continue this fight, so whether it’s $5 or $500, your donation truly makes a difference.