The U.S. District Court in Arizona granted mining giant Resolution Copper permission on Monday to join the U.S. government as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by grassroots group Apache Stronghold.
The Native organization has been fighting to prevent Resolution from building a huge copper mining operation that would obliterate Oak Flat, one of the Apaches peoples’ most sacred sites. Oak Flat, or Chi’chil Biłdagoteel, “the place where the Emory oak grows,” is also culturally important to other Southwestern tribes, and is one of Arizona’s remaining riparian zones and a popular site for recreational users.
The 2,200-acre site, currently a campground on the Tonto National Forest about 60 miles east of Phoenix, has been at the heart of a nearly 20-year-long struggle among tribes, environmentalists, the U.S. government and Resolution Copper, which is owned by multinational mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP.
Congress approved a land swap of other environmentally sensitive lands in Arizona for Oak Flat between Resolution and the U.S. Forest Service in December 2014 after a 10-year effort by Resolution to make the deal. Apache Stronghold filed suit in January 2021 to halt the swap.