Courtesy Anna Jeffrey
Protesters have occupied the Oak Flat Campground since early February. "I'm overwhelmed by the support we're getting across the country," says protest organizer Wendsler Nosie Sr.

Fight Continues to Wrest Control of Sacred Site Back From Copper Mining Co.

Lee Allen

This one appears headed for a 12-round title bout as the San Carlos Apache tribe continues its battle with Resolution Copper Co. over the issue of sacred land at Oak Flats. The mining company wants to get started on its $61.4 billion operation.  Tribal opposition to prevent that from happening is gathering strength.

While snowballs are not likely in either Hell or Arizona, the latter may be disproving that theory as organized opposition continues to grow larger aimed at keeping sacred tribal lands just that, sacred and tribal.

RELATED: Hundreds Gather at Oak Flat to Fight for Sacred Apache Land

“What once was a struggle to protect our most sacred site is now a battle,” said current tribal chairman Terry Rambler.

RELATED: San Carlos Apache Leader: ‘What Was a Struggle to Protect Our Most Sacred Site Is Now a Battle’

“I’m overwhelmed by the increasing support we’re getting across the country,” said Wendsler Nosie Sr., former tribal chairman and protest organizer in announcing Round Two of the battle.  “This is war, not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense, with the focal point being Washington where we’re trying to repeal the underhanded way this land transfer was handled. Tribal governments are a big part of solving this puzzle, unifying their respective peoples to see the ugliness involved here and protesting against it.  What we’re doing is working.”

Back in February, 300 protestors held a weekend-long Gathering of Nations Holy Ground Ceremony at the Oak Flats Campground.  After most of the attendees had showed their support and departed, a core group set up an encampment at Chich’il Bildagotell, digging in for the long haul.

“We are organized as a spiritual mission with Apache indigenous roots. Phase II is maintaining occupation here for seven years,” said Apache Stronghold Media Liaison Laura Medina in a statement. “We are building a new path that is different from the normal ideas of social change.”

“Living at the site is like coming home,” Nosie said. “The whole environment of this place brings spirituality and turns doubters into supporters. Call it ‘occupation’ if you will, but the right words are that we are coming home. The system and Resolution Copper may not know it, but this is a protracted struggle, and if we stay true to task, we will win. We’ve created a fire that cannot be extinguished, and while it becomes scary that we don’t know what tomorrow will be like, we are not going to vacate this area.”

Another All Nations Spiritual Gathering is scheduled for the weekend of May 30–31. Native singers, artists and guest speakers will hold forth on Saturday, with a blessing ceremony, Apache Mountain Spirit Dancers, and Christian groups joining tribal protestors in a “religion-supporting-religion” gathering on Sunday.

“These two days are meant to renew our movement to join together in repealing the greatest sin that Senator John McCain perpetuated when he supported this land swap rider attached to a must-pass bill approved by Congress,” said Noisie.

RELATED: Legislation for Rio Tinto Copper Mine on Sacred Land Slips Into Defense Bill

San Carlos Apache Leader Seeks Senate Defeat of Copper Mine on Sacred Land

The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act gave 2,400 acres of Apache sacred land to the global mining entity whose Plan of Operations would dig a mile-wide hole 7,000 feet deep in search of copper. Resolution Copper’s plan admits only that “the area might be subject to adverse effects from Project activities.”

“We’re fighting a multibillion dollar company and Congress, so we’re facing power and money and influence,” Nosie noted.

Skirmishes abound behind the scenes, on both sides.

“It’s a strategic war, and we are rallying our supporters so that everyone will have a specific job in this nationwide fight to make repeal happen,” said Nosie. “I’m being monitored like crazy, every move I make, so I need to stay a step ahead of the opposition. Chairman Rambler and I have already met with tribal leaders and religious groups throughout the country urging them to pass resolutions to support our repeal efforts. Everyone is getting on the same page, and there’s a growing sense of excitement in Indian country.”

Separate from this effort is another group (Chiricahua Apache Ndee Nation) that is also pushing litigation. Michael Paul Hill, describing himself as a spiritual activist who broke away from the Apache Stronghold, said his loosely formed organization plans to file injunctive lawsuits from the county level up to the federal court level.

“We’ll use as many legal avenues as we can to remove Resolution Copper from the land,” Hill said.

“We need to make sure our collective voices are being heard,” said Rambler, noting that activity is occurring over more than one front.

“There are a lot of main messages, but down the road we’ll all be pulling together for a repeal of this law,” Nosie said.

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bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
Within a ten mile radius of Oak Flats are mature oak trees that produce the acorn that have been harvested for generations by the Apache. In earlier times the acorn was shelled, winnowed, and ground into a fine powder. This served as a dietary mainstay for the Apache who traversed the great Southwest with each season. These too are in jeopardy of being contaminated by the millions of gallons of polluted water that the mine require for its operation. In my eyes, this is an infringement upon religious rights as it a sacred area long before there were roads, towns, and the discovery of copper and silver. As a youngster, my family used this as a recreational area because it offered a vast variety of vegetation, rock formations, campsites and clear open skies that was rich in history that were told of orally, that is, not found in Arizona history books. Apache Leap. Apache Tears. Is their story real or made up? It matters not, for what does matter is that this was and still is considered Apache Land. The victory to save Oak Flats is not for Apaches, but all tribal nations who have seen their lands reduced mile-by-mile. Stop by to lend a hand to those who placed their lance and declare this our strong hold. Be there Memorial Day weekend and amplify the memories of those who gave their lives fighting for their Peoples' livelihood. Tell a friend, Native of non-Indian, it matters not. Let our numbers swell so that the media will help send our message -- This Land is Sacred and It will Remain Ours !!