A local dispute in the old mining town of Superior, AZ has sparked a legislative battle on Capitol Hill, and the outcome could affect the reelection races of two incumbents in Congress.
A proposed land exchange between the federal government and an international mining conglomerate would carve thousands of acres out of the surrounding national forest — land the Apache Indians consider sacred. Over the last several years, the effort to open a protected area to mining for the first time has become embroiled in an ethics controversy and sparked an environment-versus-jobs debate, The Hill reports.
Beneath the surface is one of the world’s largest untapped copper deposits — by some estimates, enough to supply a quarter of America’s annual demand for more than 50 years.
The state’s economy is in the doldrums, and the Copper Triangle region in the heart of Democrat Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s district is no exception.
Her reelection prospects, and to some extent those of Sen. John McCain who has pushed the land swap bill in the Senate, may hinge on getting the legislation passed. When Kirkpatrick ran for Congress in 2008, she came to the San Carlos Reservation for a fundraiser organized by Wendsler Nosie Sr., the Apache tribe’s chairman. “The tribe fully supported her,” she said.
Backing from the tribes is significant in Arizona’s 1st House district; Native Americans make up roughly 20 percent of the population, one of the highest concentrations in the country.
Two years after the San Carlos fundraiser, Nosie is no longer on speaking terms with Kirkpatrick. The rift between the freshman lawmaker and many in Eastern Arizona’s Indian Country started several months after she won election to the House. That’s when she first staked out a firm position on the mining project.
In Washington for the passage of a resolution honoring the legendary Apache leader, Geronimo, last February, Nosie went to Kirkpatrick’s office for a meeting. He had heard rumors that she was planning to support the exchange and wanted to remind her of the tribe’s view.
That day Nosie and Martha Interpreter-Baylish, a member of the San Carlos tribal council, sat down with Kirkpatrick and her chief of staff, Michael Frias. “Back in Arizona I’m hearing you’re supporting Resolution Copper,” Nosie recalled saying.
He asked her directly whether she supported the bill. Kirkpatrick responded that she did.
“Ann, the reason why I’m here is because you had told me that you would definitely hear both sides of the story,” Nosie said.
Kirkpatrick leaned forward in her chair. “Chairman, tell me, how is your religion going to put food on the table?” she said. “Tell me how your religion is going to help the children getting abused by their parents. How is your religion going to turn the bed sheets of your elders?”
The chairman stopped her. “Ann, don’t even go there,” he said.
The meeting broke up minutes later. The two haven’t spoken since.
Read the rest of the story here. Watch this embedded video showing Congresswoman Kirkpatrick running away from her constituents at a Town Hall meeting.