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Copper Mine Protest on Tonto NF Now in Fourth Week

Ryan Heinsius

A protest east of Phoenix is in its fourth week as a group of Native Americans has gathered in opposition to a proposed copper mine. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, the area of the Tonto National Forest is a burial ground and considered sacred by several tribes throughout the state.

Last month, members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe marched more than 40 miles over two days from their reservation to the Oak Flat campground near Superior. It’s a site that could become North America’s largest copper mine.

For three weeks a group that, at times, has numbered in the hundreds has camped at the site in protest and to conduct ceremonies. 

Credit Ryan Heinsius
Oak Flat is almost 70 miles east of Phoenix on the Tonto National Forest. The project would be operated by Resolution Copper and become North America's largest copper mine.

Vernelda Grant is the director of the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s Historical Preservation and Archaeology Department.

“Through the years the natives peoples used this place as an area for ceremonial purpose, for harvesting food items for medicinal plants. We’ve been praying here, we’ve been having our ceremonies and we’ve been doing all these things all these years — decades, hundreds of years, thousands of years,” Grant says.

In December, a rider on the federal Defense Authorization Act approved a land swap that would pave the way for the mine operated by Resolution Copper. Supporters include congressional representatives Ann Kirkpatrick and Paul Gosar, as well as senators John McCain and Jeff Flake. They say the mine would bring more than $60 billion to the state and create nearly 4,000 jobs.

Some environmental and recreation groups have joined in opposition to the mine saying the area would be destroyed by the project.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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