July 21, 2015 / 7:37 PM / 5 years ago

At U.S. Capitol, Arizona Apaches protest planned copper mine

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Scores of Native American demonstrators protested at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday against a proposed $6 billion copper mine in Arizona at a site that members of the Apache tribe say is sacred.

Members of the San Carlos Apache tribe began a cross-country caravan to Washington this month to persuade Congress to save the area known as the Oak Flat campground near Superior, Arizona.

The group of Native Americans, called Apache Stronghold, hopes to get lawmakers to repeal a land exchange that paves the way for the project by Resolution Copper Mining. The company is owned by Australian miners Rio Tinto Plc and BHP Billiton Ltd.

More than 100 Native Americans and supporters marched from the White House to the Capitol, where they drummed, sang and performed prayer ceremonies for nearly three hours.

“Today is our day. Today is our ceremony. We’re not here looking at this Capitol like it’s in charge of us,” said tribe councilman Wendsler Nosie.

The caravan has been gathering support at Native American reservations and held a protest in New York on Friday.

Mine supporters tout its expected benefits, including about 3,700 jobs and $60 billion in economic impacts. Nosie called the job estimates inflated.

Project spokeswoman Jennifer Russo has said the company is committed to involving tribal members and has reached out to address complaints.

President Barack Obama in December approved the exchange of 2,400 acres (970 hectares) deemed sacred to Native Americans and precious to environmentalists.

The mine is slated for construction next to the Apache Leap cliffs, a site where Apaches jumped to their death to avoid capture by U.S. troops in the 1870s.

Tribal protesters set up a camp in the area in February. They have refused to leave until the land deal is repealed.

The exchange was part of a defense spending bill and supported by Arizona’s congressional delegation.

Apache Stronghold plans a second day of protests at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Reporting by Lacey Ann Johnson; Editing by Ian Simpson and Peter Cooney

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