Opponents of copper mine on Apache site head to Supreme Court

By Hannah Northey | 05/15/2024 01:25 PM EDT

The 9th Circuit this week declined to reconsider a religious rights challenge of the mine proposal.

The sun sets over Oak Flat Campground.

The sun sets over Oak Flat Campground in the Tonto National Forest, which is used for prayer and other rituals by Native Americans from the area. A 2014 federal law swapped the land to a mining company to build a copper mine. Ty O'Neil/AP

A grassroots group that includes members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe is poised to ask the nation’s highest court to hear its plea to halt a massive copper mine from destroying an Apache holy site in Arizona known as Oak Flat.

Apache Stronghold plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday declined to reconsider the case, said Luke Goodrich, a Becket attorney who represents the group.

The nonprofit has pushed the courts to halt a land swap that would allow the federal government to transfer thousands of acres of public land in Arizona, including the Oak Flat site, to a mining company, advancing construction of the copper mine.


The group has warned the mine would transform Oak Flat, known in Apache as Chi’chil Biłdagoteel, into a 2-mile-wide and 1,100-foot-deep crater. The site consists of a vast grove of Emory oaks sacred to Apaches, where some go to pray, hold ceremonies and collect acorns to cook with. It’s now part of the Tonto National Forest about 60 miles east of Phoenix, where the Forest Service currently has a campground.