Tribe calls mining ruling a victory
The Quechan Indian Tribe's long-standing fight to protect a sacred site from being mined for gold received a government decision Tuesday that tribal leaders call a major victory, both politically and spiritually.
A NAFTA tribunal announced its decision Tuesday to uphold state and federal actions that would regulate hard-rock or open-pit mining by GoldCorp Inc. (formerly Glamis Gold) at an area northwest of Yuma known as Indian Pass. Tribal officials heralded the decision as a crucial obstacle to the company's intent to build the mine, but those officials stressed that their battle still isn't over.
"The (decision) shows that the tribunal understood that the Indian Pass area is a sacred area to the Quechan people, worthy of protection from hard rock mining," said Mike Jackson Sr., president of the Quechan Tribe. "After battling the mining company for nearly 15 years, it is good to have this decided. We encourage Glamis (now GoldCorp) to take immediate steps to put the matter behind all of us."
GoldCorp, which is based in Canada, had asked the North American Free Trade Agreement tribunal to intervene after the state of California and the United States announced decisions to regulate hard-rock or open-pit mining at the Glamis site, according to Courtney Ann Coyle, attorney for the tribe.
GoldCorp stressed Tuesday that by not allowing the mine to be built, California and the U.S. are hurting their own own economics.
"We are certainly disappointed, particularly in light of continued economic challenges facing the country and rising jobless rates," said Jeff Wilhoit, vice president for investor relations. "We're disappointed that the U.S. has decided to turn its back on an opportunity to create skilled jobs."
Wilhoit stressed that mining operations at Indian Pass would not involve the negative impact that the Quechan Tribe fears.
"We have proven time and time again through our mining projects throughout North America that we operate first and foremost with respect to the community in which our mines are located, giving high consideration to the very highest environmental standards. That is our track record," Wilhoit said. "There is a legacy connected to gold mining that simply doesn't apply anymore. The technology used today has an extremely low impact. We're disappointed that California will not be able to participate in a responsible and modern, 21st century gold mining project."
Indian Pass, which is considered a sacred area by the Quechan, is located east of Ogilby Road adjacent to the Picacho State Recreation Area.
"We are very pleased to see that an international tribunal recognized the obligation of state and local governments to respect indigenous cultural rights," Coyle said. "We sincerely hope that the tribe's actions will pave the way for increased participation by other indigenous peoples in international economic law disputes."
GoldCorp's request for a mining permit was denied by the Clinton administration in 2001, according to Coyle. The Bush administration later rescinded the denial, Coyle explained, but an actual permit was never granted.
The land remains undeveloped and is administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Wilhoit declined to predict if GoldCorp will pursue plans to mine at Indian Pass. He said Tuesday's decision was issued via a 350-page statement, which the company's lawyers will need time to consider.
Coyle stressed that any further attempts to mine Indian Pass would be purely "foolhardy."
"GoldCorp would now have to reinitiate the permit process, which the tribe would strenuously object to. I doubt the Obama administration would grant it," Coyle said. "We are still going to have to forge a solution to protect this area for the long run. This isn't really over, but this is still a great political victory."
Darin Fenger can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6860.