Members of the San Carlos Apache tribe in Arizona on Tuesday said they have sued the Trump Administration to block a pending land swap that would give Rio Tinto the land it needs to build its Resolution Copper project.
Apache Stronghold, a non-profit organisation that filed the lawsuit in the US District Court in Phoenix, said it sought to stop the publication of a final environmental impact statement that will trigger the transfer of Oak Flat land to Resolution Copper.
Oak Flat, or Chi'chil Bildagoteel, is central to the Apache tribe's traditional religion and identity. The land is located about 70 miles east of Phoenix in the Tonto National Forest.
"Giving away our sacred land by the US government for destruction by a foreign mining company destroys our ability to practice our religion," Apache Stronghold said in an emailed statement.
Rio Tinto did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
US President Donald Trump's outgoing administration plans to approve the land swap on January 15, clearing a long-time hurdle for a project that is opposed by many Native Americans.
The environmental impact statement is slated to be published on Friday, five days before Trump is replaced by President-elect Joe Biden.
While Biden has not spoken publicly about the project, he promised Arizona tribal leaders in October that they would "have a seat at the table" in his administration.