Three Native American Tribes have filed a preliminary injunction against Canadian mining company Hudbay Minerals to stop its plans to raze lands which encompass the Tribes’ burial grounds, ancient village sites, and sacred sites. The Tribes’ ancestral sites stand to be obliterated to pave the way for what would be the third largest copper mine in the United States — and quick profits for Hudbay Minerals. Earthjustice is representing the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and the Hopi Tribe in court.
Now, even before the court has a chance to rule on the merits of the cases, the Tribes are again facing the threat of irreversible cultural destruction after suffering similar abuse in the 1980s, when the Anamax Mining Company excavated gravesites in preparation for developing a mine that it ended up abandoning. The company mishandled the burial grounds, and while they removed some of the ancestral remains, they left graves and the village grounds open to the elements when the company abandoned the site a few years later. The Tribes’ ancestral remains were shipped to the University of Arizona, where they were warehoused for thirty years while the Tribes fought to repatriate them. They were only returned to the Tohono O’odham Nation several years ago.
“We are asking the court to halt Hudbay’s imminent plans to destroy our ancestral lands and archaeological sites at their proposed Rosemont Mine,” said Austin Nunez, Chairman of the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation. “We suffered grave cultural harms when the Anamax Mining Company desecrated our burial sites in this same very place in the 1980s. We cannot risk any further harm to our ancestral heritage and must protect this place of great cultural and natural beauty for future generations.”
History is repeating itself. But this time, the Trump administration has cleared the way for the mine, disregarding environmental laws and the unacceptable cultural destruction. Two months ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers abruptly granted a critical Clean Water Act permit for the mine, ignoring over eight years of opposition from the Environmental Protection Agency, Native American Tribes, and the Corps’ own Los Angeles District (which recommended denial of the permit in 2016). Despite its obligation to protect these public lands and cultural sites, the Forest Service acquiesced to the mine on the unfounded assumption that the company had a right under the 1872 Mining Law to dump waste rock and tailings on public lands of great cultural significance to Native American Tribes.
“The history of the Hopi people extends to many places within and beyond the Southwestern United States, and the area of the proposed Rosemont mine is no exception. It is a landscape in which numerous Hopi clans both lived and migrated through,” said Hopi Vice-Chairman Clark W. Tenakhongva. “Evidence of their history and lives here and can be found in the numerous ancient structures that are spread throughout the area. Mining would ultimately bring about the destruction of these sites and deprive the Hopi people of the opportunity to teach our children about their past.”
Hudbay Minerals’ plans include clearing 23 known archeological sites in the Santa Ritas that include ancestral burial sites. The company would target Gaylor Ranch, a historic Hokokam village, proposing to completely excavate this site and remove the remains of the Tribes’ ancestors within the first two months of construction. Hudbay Minerals intends to remove human remains, funerary objects, sacred items, and objects of cultural patrimony by digging backhoe trenches, mechanically stripping the site, and shovel stripping the land.
“This is a sorry example of the Trump administration evading the law and disregarding the heritage of Native American Tribes to pave the way for a highly destructive open pit copper mine,” said Stu Gillespie, staff attorney with Earthjustice. “To add to this injustice, Hudbay Minerals now intends to race forward with the destruction of ancient tribal sites before we can even obtain a ruling from the court to right this wrong.”
The Tribes seek an order from the court halting construction activities scheduled for August until the court can rule on the merits of the Forest Service’s authorization of the mine and the Army Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Act permit. Until the court rules, these cultural heritage sites and burial grounds should be left in peace.
“Rosemont told the court that they intend to start work next month at the site. Once these sites are destroyed, they can’t be restored,” said Chairman Robert Valencia of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. “No work should occur at the site until the court can rule on our case.”
Hudbay Minerals has been accused of profound human rights abuses at their Fenix nickel mine in Guatemala.
Unimaginably Vast Mining Destruction, By the Numbers
The Rosemont Copper Mine is slated for public and private lands in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains. The mine is so colossal it would entail dumping 1.9 billion tons of toxic mining waste on public lands, burying over 3,500 acres of National Forest System lands that contain dozens of prehistoric tribal sites.
Rosemont would also excavate a half-mile deep pit that would puncture the regional aquifer, reversing groundwater flows and depleting surface flows at multiple springs, seeps, and streams into perpetuity. These impacts would be felt as far away as Tucson, Arizona.
The Santa Ritas are home to the last jaguar population in the United States. The iconic “El Jefe” jaguar has been caught on film over the years in these mountains.
- Tribes' motion for preliminary injunction (No. 4:19-cv-00177-TUC-JAS) to prevent the Rosemont Copper Company from undertaking any ground-disturbing activities authorized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit or the U.S. Forest Service’s revised Mining Plan of Operations, which relied upon the 404 Permit. (Related: Memorandum in support of the motion for preliminary injunction.)
- Tribes' motion for preliminary injunction (No. 4:17-cv-00475-TUC-JAS) to prevent the Rosemont Copper Company from undertaking any ground-disturbing activities approved by the Forest Service in its June, 2017 Record of Decision or pursuant to Rosemont’s March 20, 2019 revised Mine Plan of Operations. (Related: Memorandum in support of the motion for preliminary injunction.)
Zoe Woodcraft, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2071