“WHERE THE CREATOR TOUCHED THE LAND” APACHE EFFORTS TO SAVE OAK FLAT FROM “GREEDY” AND MEAN-SPIRITED POLITICIANS
The lush Oak Flat campground, once a quiet island of green in Central Arizona, is known to the nearby San Carlos Apache as “where the Creator touched the land”. Its lush canopy of trees and streams surrounded by the brown Sonoran Desert leaves little doubt this small gem is worth the fight looming in its future. It is the classic battle of good, fighting corporate greed aided by “political corruption”, against a Native American tribe that historically has been pushed to the end of their Earth.
The Apache, disconnected from their lands and culture, were taken prisoners-of-war and were victims of genocide. Still they endured, survived and have taken up their battle for holy land to the highest court in the land, their creator! Ussen, placed them on this earth and made them stewards of the land from the day they are born to the day they die it is inherent to the Apache to protect the land their ancestors died fighting for, today it is their fight.
More than a year ago, few knew of Oak Flat, for many, it’s the top-of-the-world-a high spot where one can see forever. Roughly a hundred miles southeast of Phoenix and a long way from all the green golf courses, resorts of Scottsdale where folks sip light beer poolside. More than 200 San Carlos Apache marched on a crowded curving roadway, backed up by vans of elderly. They marched 50 miles to Oak Flat from the Tribal headquarters in San Carlos some walking and others running across some of the hottest, inhospitable land in the United States.
Today, one year plus and counting, activists are marching for Oak Flat in Honolulu, Seattle and Sacramento and protests are being held elsewhere in the U.S. The San Carlos Apache began their 2016 anniversary march in February from “Old San Carlos”, 13 miles from present day tribal headquarters, when Coolidge Dam was built it plugged the Gila River. As the water rose the historic, painful and criminal San Carlos Indian Agency was lost to the waters, as well as, 400 Indian graves.
Vernelda Grant: tribal historic preservation officer for the San Carlos Apache Tribe
We have mixed feelings, mixed feelings because, you know, we have the water here now, we have the fish here and these beautiful birds, and the water to us is life, but underneath it all is a lost history. This water covers a painful part of our lives from the past. I think it soothes that pain. For the Apaches, the waters help conceal a painful past. Old San Carlos was a powerful launchpad and an emotional sendoff for the almost 200 marchers and runners who churned through the 50 miles march ending up at Oak Flat for the blessing of the holy land by the Apache Crown Dancers.
Since then, the campground has been occupied, as the Apache continue their protective watch. Meanwhile, forces are at work to turn around the “land swap” that John McCain snuck into the behemoth national defense spending bill that was passed.
Everyone now, has heard of Oak Flat ! The unjust midnight move one year ago by John McCain, bypassing due process, so a foreign copper company could steal land that serves as part of the San Carlos Apache lifestyle and culture. After a decade of successful tribal legal intervention, McCain slipped the rider into the 2015 National Defense (must pass) Bill overnight and passed it the next day, bypassing any public transparency. Today, a goggle search for Oak Flat brings back, hundreds, if not, thousands of hits. From photo spreads in GARZA the French News Magazine to an Op/Ed piece in the New York Times calling McCain and Jeff Flakes bill, “a new low in congressional corruption”, written by Lydia Millet, who says ”the rider should be repealed.” Millet suggests “laws can be reversed by new legislative language.
Tucson representative Raul Grivaljva and presidential candidate and Vermont Senator both have filed legislative action to scuttle the McCain-Flake rider in favor of the San Carlos Apache Indian Tribe.
“Oak Flat is an important cultural and religious area that is vital to the traditions of our Native American brothers and sisters – it deserves our strongest protections,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson.
The Save Oak Flat Act, authored by Tucson Rep. Raul Grijalva and cosponsored by presidential Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Ruben Gallego and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, would repeal this amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, thereby disallowing mining in this area. According to the Save Oak Flat Act, the establishment of a mine would result in, “the physical destruction of tribal sacred areas and deprive American Indians from practicing their religions, ceremonies, and other traditional practices.” Furthermore, the Act considers the potential environmental degradation due to mining waste.
John Welch, an archaeologist, long-time resident of Fort Apache and a professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada, says Oak Flat, “Is the best set of Apache archaeological sites ever documented, period, full stop.” Oak Flat and Ga’an Canyon are “where the spiritual beings that represent healing live.”
“We demand entitlement to our land and reservation, says Nosie, “through prayer, we are going to win!” “We are bringing down the barriers imposed upon us and today we breakout, the abuse from the people outside (the reservation), ends here today.”
So spoke, Wendsler Nosie, one year ago speaking in one voice for Tribal leaders from all over Arizona and Native Americans everywhere, Nosie announced Thursday February Fourth, 2015, to be “a historic day as the Apache once again took the field once again against the United States of America”. Nosie then led his people on a march to Apache Leap Mountain towering over the mining community of Superior where Resolution Copper plans to use robots working deep underground to collapse the mountain beneath itself imploding the Apache sacred ceremonial grounds where their ancestors are buried, where their daughter’s held Sunrise Ceremonies, where their parents wakes and funerals were enshrined—a holy place for every chapter of Apache Life.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the San Carlos Brave’s Basketball Team today has won the State Championship this a very afternoon.” Applause breaks out as community members celebrate their children bringing home the top prize from the state tournament. Apache are a very proud people and their children are the center of their universe.
Apache Leap Mountain gets its name from the Pinal Apache Band who lived in those hills and valley, those rocks still carry rock art left from their dreams of successful hunts for deer and mountain sheep, game that filled their stomachs and fueled their children’s futures. That band of 40 died leaping from the ragged mountain edge as they were surrounded by the U. S. Cavalry who demanded a return to San Carlos, or die by their sabers. The Pinal Apache chose to leap knowing their God knew best how they should live and die. Today the Apache fight for their children.
For decades, the Apaches fought and raided encroaching Mexican and American immigrants. In the 1870s, the U.S. government forced them onto camps or reservations, like San Carlos. “HELL’S 40 ACRES” was the nickname for San Carlos Indian Agency for the deplorable living conditions found there in 1870-80’s according to wikipedia, there it reports the U.S. Army showed both animosity toward the Indians and disdain for their civilian Indian agents. Soldiers and officers Wikipedia reports “sometimes brutally tortured or killed the Indians for sport…”
“We were pushed here”! says Wensler Nosie, former Chairman of the San Carlos Apache people and spiritual leader of the Save Ash Flat Movement. We used to roam the entire South West, but we were told to stay at San Carlos and extermination was the response when we didn’t. The white man killed our ancestors, my great grandparents, when they tried to continue their nomadic lifestyle. My mother told me, stay on the reservation-don’t bother those white people outside or they will rain down hurt upon you and our people! That was a sickness pressed upon our people by the U.S. government, that ends today, “Today we pray to our God and through God we will win!”
Councilman Fred Ferreiria from the San Carlos Peridot district says “they gave us this land because no one wanted it — they found minerals — and they took it. If we don’t stop it now, bit by bit, they will take it all away again.” We learned the laws and how things are done, we were doing that and the government broke the rules, we must continue this fight, we are here today for our children.”
“We have champions in Congress and they will help us “Repeal the Law” said Ed Norris, chairman of the Tohono Oodham (above)
God blesses the world–he put us here to protect the land and as long as we put God first–he will fight for us. Apache people were taught to pray and only through prayer will we win. The white man came to America in search of religious freedom but still they deprive the Apache of what is his religious right.” “We are still prisoners-of-war” said Wally Davis, chairman of the Tonto Apache speaking of people forced marched to the San Carlos Indian Reservation. “This is a message to all Native Americans.” “San Carlos is still a prison, ” Davis said. In March 1875, the government closed the Yavapai-Apache Camp Verde Reservation and the Army marched the residents 180 miles to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. More than 100 Yavapai died during the winter trek. After Geronimo’s capture in 1886, and the Chiricahua Band were shipped to Florida, San Carlos was then used to contain all the rest of the Apachean-speaking people until the 1900’s.
“This is Apache territory and Oak Flat belongs to the Apache—they took it away from us and we must take it back says Apache Chairman Terry Rambler. “I’m very proud of my ancestor’s “Apache Pride” we were supposed to be exterminated but we are here today, let’s take over Oak Flat, this is our time to be involved! Apache were slaughtered and killed here—we will fight for the blood of our ancestors. The chairman said the San Carlos Tribal council voted against any copper mines being built upon their land.”
“The white people came to this land searching for religious freedom, fleeing persecution, they wanted “ to have the ability to pray, we want the same freedom”. Some people have to visualize something, like a church, a structure to express their love of God, Oak Flat is our church, it is no different today. Today is about religious freedom, we need to keep our connection to our God.”
It is a little known fact, that the largest, most-amazing copper deposit in Arizona, lies beneath the city of Mesa. So imagine, if you will, the Mesa Arizona Temple – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gets a federal notice that the church is off-limits and will be demolished in order for China to have all the copper they want to sell back to us. That’s Oak Flat, in an nutshell, the church of the San Carlos Apache is threaten by a copper mine and since environmental studies have been ruled unnecessary, the San Carlos people fear for their water and their spirituality.
In addition to the destruction of this place of worship, the Land Exchange will threaten the water quality and water supply of the region. The Tonto National Forest was established in 1905 principally to protect the region’s watershed. However, the Land Exchange will effectively eliminate these protections. Under current plans, the mining operation will require an unsustainable amount of water to operate and leave behind contaminated water affecting the Tribe and local communities for generations to come. The resulting hole will be two miles across and resemble “Meteor Crater” near Winslow, Az.
Meanwhile the 1978 American Indian Religious Act forbids government to denying Native Americans access to sites or to interfere with religious practices and customs where such use conflicts with federal regulations according to President Jimmy Carter this act stops that. Both Presidents Nixon and Eisenhower signed bills setting aside Oak Flat from mining and development. It was established as a green space for Americans to enjoy.
A few months ago, the National Museum of the American Indian contacted the SouthWest PhotoJournal to acquire “images for their upcoming classroom lesson plan their Education Department was developing, a lesson plan about American Indian Removal, for teachers and students K-12. The web-based module titled “Many Trails of Tears.” would be a teaching tool to understand the impact and complexity of U.S. Removal Policies, with a wide variety of stories and outcomes. One part of the lesson was to focus on Oak Flat. They asked students to look at Oak Flat and determine whether mining on a sacred site is an example of removal today says Erin Beasley, visual researcher for the National Museum.
“Just recently the web lesson plan went through a review process Beasley reported a couple months later, and “the education team has informed me they had to drop the Oak Flat story in the lesson plan for the immediate future”. “It may come back at some point, but for now I’m very sorry to say we won’t be using the Oak Flat images. Oak Flat is such an important story, I’m sure it will come into another project, or become a growth of this educational project, in the future.”
I frankly had expected the change because the battle over Oak Flat is growing very contentious and workers at the National Museum are subject to the will of Congress and to be calling Oak Flat, an example of forced relocation, while Republicans are saying never mind, this campground is no consequence or no major importance, could cost a job.
Sides have been chosen and battle lines drawn both Reps. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, and Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, asked the National Park Service to withdraw the Oak Flat application to the National Register of Historic Places, saying it was confusing and vaguely worded in an attempt to undermine the proposed Resolution Copper mine. They noted, among other things, that the application did not cite “Oak Flat,” as the area is commonly known, but called it the “Chi’chil Bildagoteel Historic District,” according to the Cronkite News Service.
“We are concerned that the use of the phrase ‘Chi’chil Bildagoteel Historic District’ and a lack of geographic information is an attempt by these opponents to limit transparency and public comments from constituents that disagree with this nomination, and an attempt to undermine our bipartisan bill” the lawmakers’ letter said.
In the March 10th edition of the Tucson Weekly Republican Congressman Paul Gosar goes nuclear at news that Oak Flat will remain listed in the National Register of Historic Places, despite attempts by himself and U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat who alleges to stand by Native Americans, to withdraw the site from historic consideration.
In a press release, Gosar alleges Oak Flat has never been a sacred site. According to a letter by former chairman of the San Carlos Apache Nation and organizer of the group Apache Stronghold Wendsler Nosie, Sr., Gosar is pressuring the National Forest Service to kick out members of the Apache Stronghold, as well as allies, who have occupied the area since the site was sold out to the mining company.
“Oak Flat deserves our strongest protections,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson. “As someone who has fought to safeguard this treasure for years, I fully support designating the land as a historic property listed on the National Register of Historic Places and encourage the National Park Service to evaluate the proposal based on its merits.”
Wendsler Nosie Sr. marching to Oak Flat
“Today eagle feathers arrived here on foot, this is a spiritual gathering. The idea is to get here so the blessing can be given by God. We have arrived so God will have blessed us…we are all brothers and sisters here. Together we will protect our water so we can continue to live as human beings.The Apache need to be afforded the same protection as all U.S. citizens—we Apache want the same rights afforded everyone else. This is a gift from God to help save the world may we all be blessed from this day forward.” Wendsler Nosie Sr.
One year ago Wendsler Nosie , spiritual leader of the San Carlos Apache, said a movement had begun and his tribe had “once again taken the field against the United States of America.” Since then members have occupied Oak Flat and continued their lifestyle using the campgrounds and canyon and valleys of Oak Flat, as the scene for weddings, funerals and the Apache Sunrise Ceremonies, the three day ceremony that celebrates Apache women coming of age. This fine stand of Emory Oaks for centuries have brought the Apache here to pick and fill their containers with acorns, to make a long time favorite Apache meal, Acorn Stew, as well as enjoying the acorn itself. Tisha Black says her 84 year old father “loves to pick acorns” at Oak Flat and the former tribal policeman, baliff and jailer stopped picking acorns there a few years ago, after a Highway Patrolman told him he couldn’t pick the nuts at Oak Flat anymore.
Since the required environmental impact studies for the proposed Resolution Mine were rendered pointless by the McCain bill, the tribe and other central Arizona residents, will have no protection for their groundwater and the mine will not be libel if water is spoiled.
Soon, if Resolution Copper gets access to the Copper beneath Oak Flat, the Superior Az community Easter campouts will cease at the campground and everything that has happened at Oak Flat before will cease to exist or occur. Eventually, the campgrounds, canyons and “world class” climbing rock will be place off limits as robots a mile beneath the surface collapse this mountain and ship the ore overseas.
“We have to stand up and fight Congress, laws can be made and laws can be changed! John McCain made a big mistake doing this to us said Terry Rambler, Chairman of the San Carlos Tribe. These politicians aided Resolution Mine, the Canadian Copper Mine that wants to collapse Apache Leap Mountain and ship the copper ore overseas. Leaving the Apache, the hole and a contaminated water source. “What was a struggle to protect our most sacred site is now a battle. Their angry words leave no doubt that “greedy politicians” like Sen. John McCain, Sen. Jeff Flake, Anne Kirkpatrick and Rep. Paul Gosar, have worn out their welcome in Indian Country.
“The rape of Indian land stops today on this historic day”, Nosie continues. ” Oak Flat was a gift from God to the Apache people, may we all be blessed from this day forward,” Nosie tells the crowd. “We are spiritually guided here–indigenous people from all over the world are watching our fight”! If America is the World’s Policeman, and this under-handed maneuver is how they treat their native peoples, then what hope do native souls have anywhere?
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