Remembering Roy Chavez, Retired Miner and Mining Activist

This blog was co-written by Roger Featherstone (Arizona Mining Reform Coalition), Pete Dronkers, and Jennifer Krill. 

Roy Chavez was a man of many hats. Living in Superior, Arizona, at the site of the proposed Resolution Copper Mine, he was a stepfather, a teacher, an elected official, and an environmental advocate. Roy and his sister, Kimberly Chavez, both passed away due to complications from Covid-19 in July.

Roy worked in Arizona’s copper mines for much of his life, and was chairperson of the Retired Miners and Concerned Citizens Coalition. One of the biggest objectives of his organization was to stop the proposed Resolution Copper Mine — which would leave a subsidence crater over a mile wide at Oak Flat, an Apache sacred site and popular recreation destination a few miles east of Superior. To the east of Superior, about seven square miles of undeveloped Sonoran Desert lands would be buried within hundreds of millions of tons of mine waste.

Roy wasn’t going to have it. After decades of working in Arizona’s copper mining industry, he knew, respected, and appreciated his colleagues in the industry, and he understood mining’s role in our modern economy.  But he also understood that the industry can’t have anything it wants. Corporations have to be checked when they go too far, and Resolution Copper was quickly headed that way. Working with former Senator John McCain, Resolution Copper managed to sneak language into the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act that would transfer Oak Flat out of public ownership — an area that was withdrawn from mineral access since the 1950’s — and into the very hands of two of the biggest mining companies in the world, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, which own the joint venture.

As part of the epic fight to save Oak Flat, Roy joined the board of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition. There, the work of his own organization could be better leveraged. Over the years he attended dozens of public hearings, wrote and reviewed technical comments, developed an incredible scaled 3D model of the projected damage the mine would have, and continued to talk to folks, allied or not, about the destruction of a sacred site well documented through hundreds of archeological artifacts.

Before Resolution Copper was formed, Roy was active in the town of Superior’s government, serving on the town council before becoming Mayor and then town Manager. Everyone in Superior knew Roy. He was active in church, civic, and other organizations. Roy DJ’d for parties and events and often MC’d and organized charity golf tournaments.

Roy’s opposition to the Resolution Copper mine proposal came at great personal cost. He was forced out as town Manager and the lease to his long-time Superior bar was revoked. After being blackballed because of his opposition to Resolution Copper, he became a substitute school teacher in the Hayden and the San Carlos school districts. When word of his passing made it to the Tribe’s leadership, the Tribal Chairman sent a letter on behalf of the San Carlos Apache people.

Roy Chavez with Earthworks Executive Director Jennifer Krill

We remember Roy for his selfless activism, kindness, humor (he moved to New York City for a brief time to try his hand at stand-up comedy), and his lasting contribution to protecting Oak Flat. Roy was a different kind of activist. He had the credibility of being a miner himself, as well as the courage to fight the same industry when it was called for. We need more people like Roy in similar campaigns — those of many hats, who speak and operate from pragmatic experience.

The Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, Earthworks, and the many other groups involved with the campaign to save Oak Flat, will continue to work to save this truly special area. When we eventually prevail, we will have done right for Roy and for Oak Flat.

Roger Featherstone is the director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition

Pete Dronkers is the Southwest Circuit Rider for Earthworks, and board member of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition

Jennifer Krill is the executive director of Earthworks