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Native-friendly amendment voted down by mining-friendly New Mexico representatives

Late last week, an amendment proposed by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D), of New Mexico’s third district, attempting to alter a deal between the U.S. government and a major mining firm was voted down. Luján had been seeking to tweak the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2009, legislation originally introduced by Senators John Kyl and John McCain allowing for an exchange of land between the federal government and the Resolution Copper Co. Lujan had hoped to protect this land, considered sacred and of cultural and historical significance to Native peoples not just in Arizona and New Mexico but throughout the United States.

Luján stood staunchly against the bill in his proposal.“You have heard my colleagues on the other side of the aisle that their bill offers protection for the sacred, traditional, and cultural sites in the proposed area to be exchanged, but I don’t believe that to be true,” he said. “If it were true, then why is every major tribal organization in the country opposing this bill?”

Luján cited the National Congress of American Indians, the All-Indian Pueblo Council of New Mexico, the San Carlos Apache Tribe (whose 2,400 acres of land on the Tonto National Forest is most affected by the Act), and the Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache tribes of New Mexico, among many other U.S. tribes as having spoken out against the land swap. “We have a Trust responsibility to our tribal brothers and sisters, and those who oppose this responsibility will dismantle it piece by piece with a scalpel and not all at once with an axe,” he said.

Among those who voted against Luján’s proposed amendment were fellow New Mexico Representative Steve Pearce, who, according to MapLight, a website that tracks the voting records and campaign contributions of U.S. Congressmen, received $9,600 from mining interests. Similarly, Representatives Jeff Flake and Ben Quayle of Arizona also voted down the amendment, and received, respectively, $5,000 and $2,500 each from the mining industry.

Rep. Luján sent the New Mexico Independent this statement:

“It was unfortunate that my amendment to protect Native American sacred and cultural sites was not adopted. Adoption of this simple amendment would have shown respect for the religious and cultural sites that are important to the many tribes in the region, in addition to recognizing that we have a responsibility to work with our tribal brothers and sisters on issues that impact their communities. Opponents of my amendment will say that tribal consultation is part of the exchange, but frankly what is outlined in the bill is not sufficient to ensure protection of sacred sites.”

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