As if the Forest Service weren't already beleaguered over the Carlota Mine--a 300-acre hole and an equal-size mountain of toxic rock that a Canadian conglomerate wants to install in the Tonto National Forest west of Globe. The Environmental Protection Agency has given the mine its worst possible rating. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department have all panned the project. The neighbors are up in arms. The mining company is irate because it has spent five years and million of dollars but still lacks the requisite permits to go ahead.
And now two Native American tribes, the Hopi and the White Mountain Apache, have complained to the secretary of agriculture that the Forest Service has mishandled prehistoric Indian sites, including at least three graves, where the mine is supposed to go in.
It's an old argument, really, a long-standing dispute between the tribes and the Forest Service over what happens to prehistoric human remains. It pits the federal bureaucracy against Native American religions. It reeks of racial anger. And antimining activists are smart enough to exploit it all.
The project would include a pit in the middle of Pinto Creek--a perennial stream that the Fish and Wildlife Service has designated as "wild and scenic," and the conservation group American Rivers named as one of ten most endangered rivers.
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers
TicketsWed., Nov. 2, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
TicketsThu., Nov. 3, 7:00pm
Arizona State University Sun Devils Hockey vs. University of Michigan
TicketsFri., Nov. 4, 7:05pm
2016 Charles Schwab Cup Championship
TicketsWed., Nov. 9, 9:00am
Copper ore dug from the pit would be piled in a leach pad in the center of an adjoining wash and then doused in sulfuric acid to separate the copper from the rock. The creek drains into Roosevelt Lake, which means that if either of the diversion channels cut around the streambed and the wash failed, it could send a toxic mess cascading into a principal water supply for the Valley ("No Miner Consideration," September 7, 1995).
The Forest Service has carried on with the permitting process under the overriding conviction that, as bad as the mine may be, it must be allowed under the 1872 Mining Law. And a host of Southwestern congressmen, including J.D. Hayworth, John McCain and Jon Kyl, have voiced their support for the project.
This spring, archaeologists under contract with the Tonto National Forest drove backhoes onto the property and began excavating 42 archaeological sites. Twenty of them were historic mining and ranching locations; the remaining 22 were prehistoric, including three Hohokam graves dating to about A.D. 1000, and a number of dwellings from the Hohokam and the subsequent Salado cultures.
In April, Deborah Ham, a Globe attorney, sued the Forest Service in federal court, arguing that the excavations were tearing up habitat for a mine that was not even approved yet. Ham won an injunction to stop the digging until a judge could consider the case.
In its brief, the Forest Service called the project "so invasive . . . that it would never be considered much less approved were it not for the mining law of 1872." But since the mine seemed inevitable under the law, Scott Wood, the forest archaeologist, saw no reason to put off the archaeological data collecting.
The judge agreed, lifted the injunction and threw out the lawsuit.
The next challenge came in July in a letter from Ramon Riley, cultural director for the White Mountain Apache tribe, to the secretary of agriculture, who oversees the Forest Service. According to a vague paragraph in the National Historic Preservation Act, agencies are supposed to consult with affected parties before disturbing historic or prehistoric sites.
Riley's letter found ". . . 'consultations' to be wholly inadequate, insensitive and out of compliance with the intent of either act."
He tells New Times, "There were some things done that we thought they had not consulted with the tribes like the Navajo and the Hopi and ourselves. There was a backhoe that dug human remains out. They never told us anything. That's been Apache land for years and that's why we're concerned."
But when pressed for specifics, Riley defers to Aimee Boulanger, the Colorado-based representative of the Mineral Policy Center, an antimining lobby. Riley says Boulanger and Bureau of Indian Affairs archaeologist John Welch wrote the letter; Riley merely signed it. Riley did attach an affidavit in which he called the mine "the latest in an unbroken chain of social and environmental injustices sponsored by the United States to benefit an aristocratic minority. The mine will obliterate land that belonged to our ancestors."
The area in question was in fact part of an Apache reservation until the 1890s, when the federal government took it back.
Riley's letter also states that the head of the Forest Service, Jack Ward Thomas, was twice put on notice by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the federal agency that monitors the National Historic Preservation Act, for inadequate consultation. In fact, the letter was sent to Thomas twice, after he claimed to have misplaced the first.
The advisory council raised two concerns on behalf of the Hopi. One, that traditional cultural properties were not adequately identified and, two, that the Forest Service was not reburying human remains in a timely fashion. The second question, incidentally, falls outside the council's authority.
"Instead of an explanation [to the advisory council's questions]," the Riley letter continues, "excavation teams equipped with backhoes rolled onto the 1,300-acre proposed mine site--a beautiful area once occupied by Hopi and Apache ancestors--and proceeded with 'data recovery.' The Forest Service's actions have resulted in the destruction of 23 Native American cultural sites and, equally egregiously, the insensitive and possibly illegal unearthing and removal of human remains and funerary objects."
Wood's response: "There's a lot of stuff in there that's just flat-assed wrong."
None of the affected archaeological sites was Apache, he says. There was no Apache pottery found, for example, even though potsherds are scattered on the ground at the site.
"We have a grand total of one Apache site in the area," says Wood. And he points out that that particular site, a rock shelter with petroglyphs, has not only been excluded from the mine area, but removed from inventories of historic properties altogether to protect it from the public. The purging of the record, Wood contends, was done at the request of the Apache tribes.
On August 6, the Hopi tribal chairman, Ferrell Secakuku, sent a letter to the secretary of agriculture that lifted verbatim several sections of the letter Riley signed. And it stated that certain "significant historic properties" had been excluded from consultation.
Hopi spokesman Kurt Dongoske says, "We have for a year and a half told Tonto that there may be significant historic properties that our office is not aware of." Each Hopi clan, he says, has its own cultural history that may be unknown to other clans. He says elders from each clan must be interviewed to get an accurate picture. Furthermore, he thinks there are "undoubtedly" more human remains in the mine area than the Forest Service is aware of.
Wood and other archaeologists involved with the project are unsure what the tribes mean by lack of consultation.
Ginny Newton, an ethnographer for SWCA, a consulting firm under contract with the Forest Service, personally consulted with representatives from the Salt River Pima, the San Carlos, Tonto and White Mountain Apache, and led them on tours of the area. The Hopi, she contends, refused to come because the Forest Service would not pay their expenses.
". . . they have not come forward and identified anything that's out there that needs to be included in the cultural resource survey," Newton says.
Meanwhile, Boulanger of the Mineral Policy Center hopes Senator McCain will write a letter supporting the tribes. And if not McCain, than perhaps Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Both senators, it should be noted, have already stated their support for the Carlota Mine.
The Tonto National Forest, perhaps bowing to the pressures from the advisory council and the tribes, has convinced the Carlota Mining Company to pay for an ethnographic study of the area that will include interviews with elders from the various tribes in the hope of identifying other significant cultural properties.
Boulanger and John Welch, the BIA archaeologist, both contend that the Forest Service did not make a good-faith effort in their consultations with the tribes.
Scott Wood, the forest archaeologist, draws a line between consultation and tribal consent. He says, "We get standard complaints from Hopi, sometimes from Zuni and sometimes from the Apaches, saying, 'You shouldn't be out there until we give you our permission.' To which our standard reply is, 'Your consent is not required on federal land. It's only required on tribal land.' It's quite clear. We are only required to consult and we've been consulting over this for a very long time and we still have gotten nowhere."
Dongoske responds, "It depends what you mean by consultation." The Forest Service, he says, considers consultation to be, "This is what we're going to do and we've already done it, thank you very much."
Under the terms of the Native American Graves Repatriation Act, Tonto National Forest must return prehistoric remains to their descendants. But here, a relatively simple concept falls into a complex cultural black hole ("Bones of Contention," June 15, 1995).
The Hohokam and Salado civilizations are claimed as ancestors to the Hopi and Zuni tribes, but also by the four southern tribes, the Salt River and Gila River Pima, the Ak-Chin, and the Tohono O'odham tribes. All their claims are archaeologically tenuous, based more on oral histories than hard science. Because of their religious beliefs, most tribes will not allow the kind of DNA testing that could prove ancestry.
Scott Wood and Lynn Teague of the Arizona State Museum recently published an official government opinion awarding ancestry to the four southern tribes. It may be a coincidence that the four southern tribes are also more willing than the Hopi and Zuni to take possession of human remains and funerary objects. The latter prefer not to confront the actual remains for religious reasons, and want them to be reburied as closely and as quickly as possible if they must be unearthed at all.
Regarding challenges to the assignment of patrimony, however, Wood says, ". . . we have received exactly none. They have not followed up with any of those things they said they would do in terms of providing more evidence and bolstering their claims. . . . We have gotten a bunch of nasty letters saying we haven't consulted with anybody--which is hilarious, considering the number of times we've met, taken people out to the field to show them things, written letters back and forth."
Dongoske says that such a protest is forthcoming.
Because of the stalemate, Tonto National Forest is holding more than 700 sets of human remains collected from various locations over several years, and possibly millions of dollars' worth of pottery and other funerary objects that someday must be reinterred. Furthermore, they must be kept safe from pothunters and grave robbers.
And there have been snafus with repatriations in the past. A 1990 repatriation of 800 human remains and 2,000 ceramic vessels unearthed during construction of the Papago Freeway turned into a political nightmare for the Arizona Department of Transportation. And despite efforts to prevent it, some of those materials turned up for sale on the black market.
Those disagreements and politico-cultural black holes are not likely to go away.
Nor is the Carlota Mine.
"Nobody's real happy about this mine," Wood confesses. "You talk to anybody in the Forest Service. If we had our druthers, we'd just tell these people to go back to Canada. But the law doesn't let us do that. So we've got to do what we've got to do. As a result, we do it as conscientiously as we can, hoping that--who knows--the whole thing will get to be such a burden that it [the mine] goes away.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.