On February 19, the Tohono O’odham Student Association at the University of Arizona hosted a screening of the documentary “Ours Is The Land,” focusing on a proposed open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.
Ce:wi Duag, the O’odham name for the Santa Rita Mountains, are located about 30 miles southeast of Tucson, Arizona, and are sacred to the tribe.
In 2007, Rosemont Copper, a subsidiary of Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals Inc., proposed building a mile-wide and half-mile deep pit in the mountain range.
Since then, controversy has erupted over the project, with supporters of the mine saying it would put $701 million per year into the local economy, create 400 high-paying mining jobs and 1,700 indirect jobs.
Opponents of the mine say it will cause irreversible damage to the environment and will threaten the habitat of El Jefe, the only known wild jaguar in the United States. Opponents also argue the mine will damage ancestral burial sites and precious archeological sites, including a rare ball court site, that are part of O’odham cultural heritage.
“Ours Is The Land” focuses on the controversy from an O’odham perspective, interviewing tribal members about their connection to Ce:wi Duag and what it would mean for their community if the mine was built on their sacred land.
The screening drew approximately 100 people, with a panel held afterward to discuss environmental issues in Indian Country.
The panel included Frances Causey, who produced and directed the documentary, Dr. Ronald Trosper, an American Indian Studies Professor at UA and member of the Flathead Indian Reservation, Austin Nuñez, San Xavier District Chairman, Wendsler Noise Sr., Apache Stronghold Director, and Naelyn Pike, Apache Stronghold member. Topics ranged from the fight to protect Oak Flat, sacred land of the Apache, from mining interests to the Salish-Kootenai Dam, the first tribally owned hydro-electric dam in the U.S.
TOSA President Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan was pleased with the event.
“This was a really important event to have here at the UA campus,” she said. “We had a really good turn-out, a lot of good questions, we had youth here, people of all ages and backgrounds shared their opinions. I was really happy with our panel, it being very diverse. Just sharing information, that’s all it’s about is to inform. I think our event was a success.”
The mine is set for construction once two permits are approved, one from the Forest Service and one from the Army Corps of Engineers. If built, it will be the third-largest copper mine in the U.S.