Why you should care about Superior, AZ…

Last spring, I had the opportunity to do CRM in one of the most beautiful places ever.

Tonto National Forest near Superior, Arizona.


My sh@#$y instagram photo does not do it justice.

As much as I enjoyed hiking around that area looking for archaeology, I felt like a harbinger of doom.

We were scoping out proposed “pads” for mineral exploration. In other words, a mining company got permission from the National Forest to drill in select locations to see if there were minerals worth exploiting.

Compared to the budget of the actual drilling operation, archaeology was the rounding error of their budget.

Then the representative from the mineral exploration company pointed to a nearby mountain and said, “Well, we’re the rounding on THEIR budget.”

Since I was pretty clueless, I asked, “What do you mean? Who are you referring to?”

He was referring to Rio Tinto, a multi-national mining corporation that was gearing up to mine one of the biggest copper discoveries of all time, and it was under THAT mountain he was pointing at.

THAT mountain was Apache Leap.

Ring a bell? This happened there. 

Needless to say, it’s kind of a big deal if you’re Apache. And it should be a big deal if you’re an American. And it should be a big deal if you’re a human.

Maybe I read a little too much Howard Zinn growing up, but history matters, and that includes the moments we’re not particularly proud of.

As archaeologists, we should be rather appalled that Congress slipped a proposed land swap that gives Resolution Copper (owned by Rio Tinto) the land in question in exchange for land elsewhere. Bottomline – It gives federal land that is historically significant and now sacred to the Apache to a foreign entity all in the name of economic development. 

If you’re so inclined, there’s a whitehouse.gov petition protesting this. 

I signed it, because that place is beautiful, and it’s hallowed ground. There are jobs and copper to be found elsewhere.

Frankly, if this place isn’t sacred, what is? What isn’t off limits? Considering the number of mound sites and the frequency of fracking in eastern North America, we’ll probably be fighting these types of battles to save significant sites in our own backyards with increasing regularity.

End transmission.


3 comments on “Why you should care about Superior, AZ…

  1. Alice Wright says:

    RE: “Considering the number of mound sites and the frequency of fracking in eastern North America, we’ll probably be fighting these types of battles to save significant sites in our own backyards with increasing regularity.” –> WORD. Recently, I learned that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians decided to ban fracking on tribal lands, “to preserv[e]… the woodland habitats that are the underpinning of tribal health and culture.” (read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/10/20/eastern-cherokee-band-forbids-fracking-its-sovereign-lands-157437). Without a doubt, this is so encouraging for those of us invested in natural/cultural resources in North Carolina. But, as mentioned in the link above, “The tribe is one of many local governments that have adopted resolutions to ban fracking within their boundaries, but given its sovereign status, its measure is the only one with teeth.” So much land, so many ecosystems, so many sites, so many memories are at risk… the archaeological community may not have a lot of “teeth” either, but signatures on a petition and activism may be a start. Thanks for the post, Shane.

  2. Ken Sassaman says:

    Thanks for posting this Shane. Archaeology has potential to move public opinion towards greater conservation of scared lands if it foregrounds religion and ritual as research topics over more prosaic concerns. We have to be willing to share (relinquish?) intellectual control with partners who operate under different ontology than most westerners and to push SHPOs and other regulatory agents to accept alternative ways of thinking about history and cultural value. The site concept itself gets in the way of alternative measures of significance as it is so entrenched as a unit of oversight and mitigative action.

  3. dover1952 says:

    I agree with the stated concerns, but I am not optimistic about this in the long run. There is a long history of actual legal or only perceived Native American sovereignty being ultimately overruled by white-eyes greed for natural resources wealth.

    One of our most key problems in American culture is our national perception that “America is all about the future rather than the present and past.” A sacred Apache ridge is about the present and past. Getting that copper out of the ridge is about America’s “economic future.” When arguments are laid, they will ultimately boil down to a question of whether the past and present should be allowed to negate what America is all about—the future.

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