A Native American group is taking its fight against Rio Tinto’s proposed copper mine in Arizona to the U.S. Supreme Court. This move follows a federal appeals court decision that upheld the U.S. government’s land transfer to the developer.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently rejected a bid to block the land grant for the Resolution Copper project. This decision supports an earlier ruling that allows the transfer of federal land in Arizona to Rio Tinto and BHP for the mining project. The court did not provide an explanation for its decision.

The Resolution Copper project, a joint venture between Rio Tinto and BHP, aims to supply over a quarter of U.S. copper demand. This copper is essential for manufacturing electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels, which are crucial to federal climate change initiatives.


Apache Stronghold, a nonprofit group representing San Carlos Apache tribe members and others, argues that the land swap violates religious protections. The land, located in a federal forest northeast of Phoenix, is a sacred site for indigenous ceremonies. Luke Goodrich, an attorney for Apache Stronghold, highlighted the Supreme Court’s strong track record of supporting religious liberty cases.

A spokesperson for Resolution Copper stated that the mine plan was developed with input from various government levels, Native American communities, and other stakeholders. The spokesperson affirmed the company’s commitment to continued engagement with these groups.

Land Transfer History

The land in question, spanning 2,422 acres, was authorized for transfer by Congress in 2014 as part of a defense bill. In return, 5,459 acres of private land elsewhere in Arizona were transferred to the federal government. An Arizona district court refused to block the land swap in 2021, a decision twice affirmed by the 9th Circuit before the latest ruling.

Apache Stronghold plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The group has 90 days to file its appeal. This case highlights ongoing tensions between federal land use policies and the religious and cultural rights of Native American communities.

Economic and Environmental Considerations

The proposed mine is expected to create significant economic benefits for Arizona, potentially generating up to $1 billion annually and creating thousands of local jobs. However, the project faces opposition due to its potential impact on sacred indigenous sites and the environment.

The Supreme Court’s decision on this matter will have profound implications for the balance between economic development and the preservation of cultural and religious sites.

As the Arizona mine fight intensifies, the Supreme Court will weigh in on a critical intersection of religious liberty, environmental conservation, and economic development.