Members of the San Carlos Apache, conservationists, rock climbers, retired miners, veterans and regular Valley residents mostly agreed at an Oct. 10 public hearing in Tempe: Very few people besides those that would make money from it want Resolution Copper Mine.
For 150 minutes, one member of the public after another took the microphone to voice displeasure with the mining project. The room was packed most of the evening, with more than a dozen attendees standing against the walls.
Only a handful of the 40 speakers were in favor, including mining industry lobbyists and a steel union representative.
Residents of the San Carlos Apache reservation and the area surrounding Oak Flat voiced profound indignation over the mine.
Some celebrated their childrens’ coming-of-age ceremonies at Oak Flat. Others collect the ingredients for traditional medicine there — the only place, one Apache elder woman said, where it is available.
All of them mentioned their distant ancestors who are buried there, and said that the project is a direct assault on their ability to exercise their religion.
“My daughters had their coming-of-age ceremonies there,” said one Apache man. “This project is a continued form of spiritual and ecological genocide.”
Similar phrases were used throughout the evening by members of the American Indian community who spoke: Cultural genocide. Colonization. Environmental injustice. Destruction. Evil.
Then Baase Pike, an Apache teenager, walked up to the microphone, which stood well above her head.
“Ever since I was little, my family has been fighting these fights,” she said. “I remember going to protect our sacred mountain, Mount Graham,” referring to a battle the San Carlos Apache lost when the largest binocular telescope for the time was constructed atop the mountain.
“So, what’re you going to do?” she asked, looking toward land managers from Tonto, BLM and the Forest Service. “We are not gone. We are here, blood and everything. We are human beings.”
A few times, those in favor of the mine took the microphone. Most of them did not look at the crowd and read prepared speeches from phone screens or notes.
One man who supported the mine even stood facing perpendicular to the gaze of the seated audience.
For most of these testimonies, the audience was respectful.
Trussell is a tall, middle-aged white man, and he read off of a yellow notepad, rehearsing all of Rio Tinto’s efforts to ameliorate local concerns and extolling the virtues of the U.S. Forest Service and the Tonto National Forest for their preparation of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the main document at issue during the public comment period.
Trussell at one point tried to pacify the rock climbers — of which there were many in the audience protesting the loss of some world-famous climbing sites — by vaguely claiming that REI will partner to offer instruction at a new bouldering area nearby called ‘Inconceivable.’
Several of the climbers who later spoke against the project laughed at the name.
Trussell then claimed that famed mountaineer Conrad Anker is in support of the project.
A few speakers later, one rock climber called Trussell out directly. He pointed at him and said, “That man’s not a climber. And him using Conrad Anker’s name made me sick. Wolf in sheep’s clothing right there. That’s what money in politics looks like.”
Most of the audience applauded.
Aside from the tension between pro- and anti-mining interests, there was a stark disconnect in priorities between the American Indian communities and recreation enthusiasts. Although both generally opposed Resolution’s project, the experiences that led to that opposition could not have been more different.
After hearing more than ten American Indian community members call the project undemocratic and racist, one man used his time to bemoan the project’s impact on off-roading areas.
Another woman said, “I’m neutral in between both sides” because she works in an industry that benefits indirectly from mining, but has a daughter who is an Olympic shooter who hunts in the same Oak Flat area that would become off-limits.
“I find myself a big supporter of the mine,” she said, “but also, on the other hand, conservation and doing the right thing.”
Even the many rock climbers who expressed solidarity with the San Carlos Apache admitted they could lose a climbing area and still be “alright.”
After more than an hour-and-a-half, Wendsler Nosie Sr., who had been quietly watching all the other speakers from the closest spot in the front row, had his turn to speak. He was brief, using only half of his three minutes.
“What you people all need to understand out here is that we have a religion, just like you,” he said.
“We are not angry at the white people. We are angry with what came across: evil and greed.”