Religious Freedom for All

A Plea to Save Oak Flat–an Apache Sacred Site–from Mining

We are taught that we learn history in order not to repeat mistakes made by those who came before us. History, we may note, rolls along in waves. Issues rise to the forefront and then recede. If left unexamined, the same issues rise again, causing injustices to manifest once more.

Presently, a very old story in American history is playing out in a predictable way: Native American ancestral land that was once protected has now been given away—and to a foreign mining company, no less. A land-swap bill that will desecrate sacred Apache land through copper mining was passed because pro-mining senators, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) attached a rider to a giant must-pass defense bill at the eleventh hour. President Obama signed the bill, as military funding depended upon the passage of the entire bill. Who will privately own and mine this land? The company is called Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, a British/Australian mining company. It should be noted that Congress was not in favor of this bill as a stand-alone and had voted it down repeatedly in past years. The land itself has been protected since the 1950’s when President Eisenhower signed an executive order protecting Oak Flat from mining, recognizing its value to Native people. As such, it is unfathomable that in 2015, Indian Country is still being torn from our Nation’s first people—land that is holy to them. Land they call home. While history may repeat itself, it must also be rewritten.

As a nation, we need to support the Apache people in their struggle to protect Oak Flat. This means saving what is sacred to them, so that their culture and ways may be preserved for generations to come. A tribe’s identity and a population’s health depend on it. The mining operation, which will take place 7000 feet beneath the surface of the Earth, will not only destroy a ceremonial site but will irrevocably damage water and air quality in the surrounding region and as far away as Phoenix. We also need to rally in support of the land itself.

While teaching high school English at the Santa Fe Indian School, I was fortunate enough to witness firsthand indigenous communities that were able to maintain their cultures and values and their connection with ancestral lands. Many students were steeped in tradition, identity, and a sense of belonging to a specific place and people. Students came to school after hunting with their villages or celebrating Feast Days. They came to class after making pottery or jewelry or cooking red chile stew. Rooted in tradition, they also embraced contemporary art forms, such as spoken word poetry and rap music. Mostly, I saw how their cultures, which had not been wiped out, lived on in them as they went on to find their places in the world.

When a former student told me about Oak Flat, I had not heard of this particular struggle. I am guilty of being unaware of something I especially care about. However, I am reminded again of how necessary it is that we remember our collective history. This particular history is embedded in the amendment of the Constitution, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Unfortunately, in the case of the San Carlos Apache, their right to worship on sacred land, land that cannot be replaced once destroyed, is in question.

Rules cannot apply indiscriminately. Freedom of religion means freedom and safety to practice religion in a mosque, in a church, in a synagogue, a temple, and on hallowed ground, which is what Oak Flat is. This land-swap will rip open the earth in the heart of ceremony, erasing a tribe’s traditional food supply, destroying access to medicinal plants, and literally blasting out of the ground a particular place that connects the San Carlos Apache people to their source—all in the name of money and the shallow promise of jobs. No amount of money is great enough to pay for the psychological damage already done to a people still reeling from the cultural genocide of their tribes committed by the government in our country. What is also at stake, ironically, is the site of Apache Leap, the cliff over which Apaches say more than 80 Apache warriors leapt to their deaths to avoid capture in 1870 as U.S. Calvary approached. Almost 150 years later, we find ourselves at a similar precipice. This moment is an opportunity for healing. Our government has a chance to make reparations, and it needs our support to do so.

Save Oak Flat

On Wednesday, July 22, a group of San Carlos Apache, joined by members of other tribes and supporters from Congress, environmental groups and allied citizens, staged a peaceful protest on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. What was evident during the protest, which was ceremonial in nature, was the quiet and powerful way in which all speakers came forth with the truths of generations. They were willing to be vulnerable and bear their pain rather than lash out. Each speaker explained the issue, the history, and the effect of this bill, not only on their tribe, but on everyone. If this land-swap happens, one speaker said, it will set a precedent that says it is okay to destroy a religious building or site. No one will be safe from corporate greed.

In the words of San Carlos Apache Chairman, Terry Rambler, “We must stand together and fight those, like Resolution Copper, that seek to take our religious freedom, our most human right. If we do not, our beliefs, our spiritual lives, the very foundation of our language, our culture and our belief will no longer be in balance, and we will become undone.”

This was a peaceful protest against a violent action. This was a prayerful ceremony for the Earth’s healing and for our own. This was a healing ceremony even for those who deem it acceptable to ravish another’s sacred site, for it was understood that they were clearly hurting from within. The speakers modeled how to take responsibility for ourselves and for the Earth. Because all of us are affected by what we do to our landscapes, we are fortunate in this country to be in the presence of those who have time-tested wisdom in these matters.
Save Oak Flat

It is unfathomable that in 2015, Indian Country is still being torn from our Nation’s first people—land that is holy to them. Land they call home.

Oak Flat is not only sacred to Native American people; the land is also visited yearly by tens of thousands of people coming to enjoy the rarified landscape. Birders, hikers and rock climbers all use Oak Flat for recreation. Native Americans tribes consider this ground to be sacred. So, how did this land swap happen?

What began as an investigation of a land-grab at Oak Flat, turned into an inquiry about how the language of law made possible this breach of human rights. Investigating the situation at Oak Flat, my research took me all the way back to the year 1452, and then brought me forward again to the present day. Having taught third grade through graduate school for twenty years, I am painfully aware of the deep need to reeducate our population on the history of land acquisition in this country. “So many people don’t even think we exist,” says my former student from the Santa Fe Indian School. “Whatever land they are standing over, someone had to die.”

My hope is to share my own reeducation process and bring to light some of the issues that have been in the dust-ridden corners of our history for all too long.

So, who lives in San Carlos Reservation now and how did they get there? Before 1880, San Carlos was not a tribe. San Carlos was a prison. Native Americans from many Nations in the neighboring areas, including the Chiricahua, Yavapai, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Tonto, and others, were forcibly removed at gunpoint from the Oak Flat area, which was their ancestral homeland, and relocated to what is now Old San Carlos. There, they were incarcerated, much as the Japanese were in internment camps. They remained as official prisoners of war until the early 1900’s. So, San Carlos was never a treaty tribe. It was established by executive order.

After President Coolidge dammed the Gila River to build the Coolidge Dam, the San Carlos Apache were rounded up and moved to where San Carlos is today, about 15 miles from Oak Flat. During this time, tribal members could not go to Oak Flat without permission. One woman recalls that her relatives “learned to pray for those things out there – [pray for] those sacred places to bring blessings to the reservation.” People were finally allowed to leave the reservation without permission in 1965. By this time, the group of mixed nations had become the San Carlos Apache. According to the Apache, they are still prisoners of war, relocated off their ancestral land and now in a position of not being able to protect it from destruction. Today, many members of the San Carlos Apache are rallying in support of saving Oak Flat. They caravanned across the United States, educating Americans and members of Congress about sacred land rights. Tribal members and supporters have occupied the Oak Flat campground for over three months, and they plan on staying on indefinitely to protect their sacred land. As such, they call themselves The Apache Stronghold.

Where this history plays itself out in the Resolution mining situation is that there are Apache people who will say that Oak Flat is not a sacred site because for their particular tribe, it was not. Likewise, according to sources at the Apache Stronghold, there are San Carlos tribal members willing to work for the mining company in order to have a job. Some Apaches say these people are usually more assimilated into mainstream culture and less attached to traditional ways. Or perhaps, like many struggling to survive financially, they have been painted into a corner and this seems like the best option.

Land ownership by Native Americans on reservations still remains shadowed by the paternal language of the law. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as of today, “…the federal government holds title to the land in trust on behalf of the tribe.” The word, “relinquish,” means to “voluntarily cease to keep or claim.” According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, “An Indian reservation is land a Tribe reserved for itself when it relinquished its other land areas to the U.S. through treaties.” The wording of this statement releases the U.S. government from the responsibility for having forcibly removed Native people from their land, while simultaneously breaking said treaties. If a Native American on a reservation wants to hold a title to his or her land “like any other citizen” (which means paying taxes on that land), he or she “can do so if the Secretary of the Interior or his authorized representative determines that he is able to manage his own affairs. This is a protection for the individual.” Again, there is the assumption, colored in the language of extant but antiquated laws, that Native Americans just might not have what it takes to care for the land. In the face of this disastrous mining project, and other similar projects, this law is laughable.

Apache Leap

Oak Flat is not only sacred to Native American people; the land is also visited yearly by tens of thousands of people coming to enjoy the rarified landscape.

It is August 5, two weeks after the protest at the Capitol building, and I am speaking with a former student about the information I am learning. I want to know what it feels like to be connected to a specific landscape, to a location. I know his tribe has lived on the banks of the Rio Grande for as long as anyone in his pueblo can remember and his ancestors have inhabited the Southwest for thousands of years. His first language was Keres, and not English. I do not know what it is like to be from one place over such a vast amount of time. My own family came to the United States from Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. By the time I was born, everyone in my family spoke English, and I never learned my languages of origin. My ancestors built their lives in American cities and then moved to new cities when they needed to for work. I did the same, inhabiting landscapes on the east and west coasts and in the southwestern desert. I want to know more about what will be taken away from the Apache at Oak Flat when land holy to generations is destroyed by a copper mine.

He has just arrived back from Feast Day in his pueblo in New Mexico. His muscles are sore from dancing the traditional dances. He is taking the day off from his sustainability work with young people in his village in order to recover. For a long time, he has prepared for the dances, running in the heat. “It takes a lot out of the people,” he says. He cannot share with me the specifics of the ceremony or even what it feels like to dance, but from his voice, it seems he has had a powerful experience. I ask him what the significance is for him to have this opportunity to celebrate with his village on land that has been sacred to them since as long as anyone can remember. “I am going back to the motherland. [The dances] allow the culture to flourish.”

When I ask him what effect mining will have on the youth of the San Carlos Apache, on his friends, he says, “Mining would cut younger generations off from ceremonies and from being who they are and from their connection to the land. If their sacred site is not there, they can’t feel their connection. It goes a lot deeper than looking at it as a hill or a mountain. It’s living. It’s breathing. It has spirit.” My former student is lucky in a way as far as land rights are concerned. He is from a Pueblo tribe called Santo Domingo. Pueblo tribes have been able to secure their traditional and sacred lands because of The Pueblo Lands Act of 1924, among other pieces of legislation that allowed Pueblo people to retain their tribal land base. Knowing the power of connection to ancestral sites, he stands in solidarity with those on the less fortunate side of land rights history.

I’ve been to a celebration in his pueblo—a Christmas dance—and I ask him if I can describe what I saw for the purposes of this article. He hesitates, and says no. “It would be like taking a photo,” he explains. “You can’t take a picture and you can’t write about it, but you can come and feel it for yourself. This is a way of preserving the sacredness.” He is talking about tribal preservation, and he is also talking about history. “History goes to prove that a lot of people lost a lot of things when they trusted and shared. If you are going to be here with us, we’re going to be doing our culture. We can’t completely conform and forget about our way of life.” The message is, he says, “Respect our dances, and respect our language.” And that means no Facebook photos. He talks about how some experiences are meant to be just that—experiences. I think I understand. Certain things in life are meant to be lived in the body and in the heart and not described with words or photos. “But people are welcome to come,” he adds. “Everyone is welcome.”

Peaceful Protest

This brand of hospitality dates back to when the first settlers arrived. Without trying to simplify those first moments of encounter, I do think it bears saying that the paradigm with which European settlers entered this land was completely different from the various ways in which Native Americans viewed this same land. For many Native Americans, land is sacred partially because the specific location itself is considered to be their ancestral homeland. Land is not something that can be exchanged or taken away; nor can it be sold, which was the original mistake and sin European immigrants made when they first contacted Native people. Because the paradigms were so different, Europeans, despite fleeing from their own experiences of religious persecution, did not make an effort to understand Native American world views. In fact, many came brandishing the idea of superiority, quick to impose their own values of religiously-endorsed domination. They also assumed that because indigenous people did not have a system for owning land, that land ownership was not important to them. However, land ownership is quite different from the act of inhabiting one’s sacred and cultural location on the planet. This misunderstanding has been and still is used to remove indigenous people from their land and to capitalize on the proceeds from exploiting that land. George Tinker, an Osage writer and theologian, states, “Indigenous peoples experience their very personhood in terms of their relationship to the land….American Indian peoples resist categorization in terms of class structure. Instead, we insist on being recognized as “peoples,” even nations, with a claim to national sovereignty based on ancient title to our land. (Tinker, 2004, p. 102)

Many first Europeans arriving here were eager to own land, but they also lugged with them from the Dark Ages a concept that proved deadly to the people who already inhabited this land. The Doctrine of Discovery was a document set forth initially in 1452 by Pope Nicolas V to King Alfonso V of Portugal. As Rome began acquiring wealth from around the world, the idea was that the pope, as a representative of God, could authorize the seizure of any land that was not under a Christian leader. The Doctrine of Discovery, or Manifest Destiny, as it is commonly known, became the justification for the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas. In the case of Indigenous people in the United States, there was the caveat that people would be spared if they converted to Christianity, but still likely removed from their homelands. To most indigenous groups, however, land was considered their mother, and they were its stewards. According to Arizona law professor, Robert Williams, Jr., in an interview with Bill Moyers, “International human rights law now does not look to see if a tribe has legal ownership, especially because so many of the treaties were fraudulent; it looks to see the ‘tribe’s historical connection to the land.’ ”

Wards of the Federal Government?

Due to the language of law and the way in which land is held collectively in trust by the United States government for reservations, Native Americans on the majority of reservations find they do not have much agency when it comes to building their own houses or starting new businesses. Essentially, individuals are left with a share of trust land that is communally-owned. Because individuals do not own their land outright, they cannot use land as collateral. Therefore, they cannot borrow money to make improvements or build. So, housing on most reservations comes in the form of mobile homes (which can be owned and moved) or poorly-constructed, government-owned HUD houses. One San Carlos Apache woman explains that because it is impossible for her to get a loan, she builds her home room by room, paying in cash for each room. The entrepreneurial spirit that is such an integral part of the American dream, as well as the promise of land ownership embedded in the Constitution, eludes indigenous people because of old laws that treated Native people as wards of the state.

Even though, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the term “wards of the state” no longer applies to Native Americans, it appears that not everyone in Congress has gotten the memo. A public meeting was set up in Flagstaff, Arizona to discuss the controversial Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013, the one which allowed Resolution Copper to acquire 2400 acres of Tonto National Forest Land, including Oak Flat, for their copper mine in exchange for 5000 acres of overgrazed grassland and burned forest. When Paul Stago, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, expressed deep concern about the effects of the mine in the region, Congressman Paul Gosar replied, “You’re still wards of the Federal Government.”

This statement reflects the sentiment of many with interests on Indian land who have not caught up with the inroads Native Americans have made with their fight for sovereignty. As Gosar went on to explain in an email response to Indian Country Today Media Network, a Native-run on-line national news source for Native people in North American, “The federal government’s dirty little secret is that Native American tribes are not fully sovereign nations in today’s society as many people are led to believe. My comments made at the roundtable last Friday were about this reality and current laws that govern the relationship between tribes and the federal government.” (See “Are American Indian Nations ‘Wards of the Federal Government’?”.)

In the case of Resolution Copper, it is possible for the U.S. government to sell ancestral homelands to foreign companies, because the land is not technically owned by the tribe. Part of why the land was able to be sold to Resolution Copper was because the land was part of the Tonto National Forest. While protected, it was not privately-owned. John Koppisch discusses the circumstances of the bottom 1% in Forbes Magazine article: “Prosperity is built on property rights, and reservations often have neither. They’re a demonstration of what happens when property rights are weak or non-existent.” Because outside companies cannot invest in a place where it is impossible to purchase a storefront, the employment options on many reservations are generally narrowed down to working for the tribe (i.e., the U.S. government), leaving the reservation, or facing unemployment. Again, though America prides itself with having an entrepreneurial spirit, many Native Americans are all but excluded from this American dream.   Though our nation continues to struggle with issues of equality for many citizens including African Americans and women, Congress has come a long way in changing the language around institutionalized racism and sexism in these cases. Unfortunately, as far as the treatment of Native Americans as citizens entitled to these same rights is concerned, our country has a long way to go. In fact, our very own Declaration of Independence still refers to Native Americans as “merciless Indian savages”, words that have not been changed in the course of history to reflect a more evolved sense of equality. A member of the Apache Stronghold noted that when visiting Germany, one gets a feel for the deep remorse of a nation who let genocide occur on their watch. This same feeling eludes our Nation. One need only look at the face on a twenty-dollar bill for proof that we are either celebrating historical figures without knowing their roles in history or simply colluding with it.

Due to the language of law and the way in which land is held collectively in trust by the United States government for reservations, Native Americans on the majority of reservations find they do not have much agency when it comes to building their own houses or starting new businesses.

Sacred ground or severance package? Were the San Carlos Apache given a choice about the fate of their ancestral site, a discussion might have ensued about continuing to protect the site vs. taking money in the form of jobs in exchange for severing ties to that land. For some, with 70% unemployment rate in the San Carlos Apache Reservation, the promise of a short-term solution or stop-gap measure might appear to override a concern for sacred land. However, most tribal members oppose the mine, and mining practice research suggests that the cave-block mining technique employs less live bodies, and thus fewer potential jobs, than other mining practices due to the extremes in heat found 7000 feet beneath the earth’s surface where the mining takes place. Furthermore, because Arizona is not set up for processing the amount of rock that would come out of such a mine, the rock with the ore will be sent to Mexico via a new corridor highway under construction, outsourcing jobs to another country. At most, Resolution Copper promises 4000 jobs, but this is over the 40 year period that the mine would be operational. What would be left in the end is a crater two miles wide and irrevocable damage to air, land, and water quality to the region. With the dry climate of the desert, an anticipated side-effect of the mine is the spread of filings dust containing toxic material as far as Phoenix. Already, communities such as the retirement settlement, Queen Valley, have seen a drastic reduction in water supply as Resolution Copper has rerouted 900,000 gallons of water towards Phoenix in exchange for water credits they will need when they begin mining.

Nancy Freeman, of the Groundwater Awareness League, has studied these issues for years. She explains the effects of cave-block mining. To take out the copper ore, the rock must be ground into a powder and then placed in a chemical bath to remove the copper. The slurry, or leftovers, consists of toxic hard metals and radioactive material. This waste will contaminate the surface water supply and the mining process itself will destroy the underground aquifers. The waste rock, of which there will be literally tons, will be placed into large piles. She laments, “Some say that worse than being ripped from your land is having minerals on it.” (Read her full report.)

San Carlos Chairman Terry Rambler, in a testimony in front of Congress in November of 2013, stated, “Once this giant hole is created underneath the surface, eventually that land is going to collapse. There are mountains in the area. They are considered weather-makers. They gather snow and attract rainfall to replenish the aquifers for our children. If the mine is allowed to exist, the giant hole will attract the water instead.” Additionally, in a letter to Reverend Mendez, former San Carlos Chairman, Wendsler Nosie, Sr. summed up the issue at hand: “We were taught that water is the centerpiece and is the giver of life and if we are to continue to exist, we must care for it no different than we would for all life. There are many more issues that are at stake that will face extinction or be destroyed forever if this land exchange is granted by the United States.”

Even former miners are worried about the environmental impact of the mine. Ron Chavez, director of the Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners Coalition, opposes the mine. “The proposed method of mining will have a devastating impact on the environment,” he said. “We should be demanding that these foreign companies pay their fair share for our blood, sweat, labor and environmental damage.” (See “Mining company says it’s committed to Superior’s success.”)

Responding to these concerns, Vicky Peacey of Resolution Copper, says, “The mining company will have to do clean-up and revegetate the site before leaving. We would be willing to fund a group to monitor air and water and report to the community. I hope that will go a long way to building trust.” I called Resolution to get more answers. I wanted to know specifically what responsibility Resolution Copper has to the people and landscape they displace. What provisions will be provided for the community after the mining operation is complete and Resolution pulls out? In other words, what will people do for work after the mine is gone in forty years? How will pollutants affect the population of people, flora and fauna, and how specifically will land, water and air quality be recovered? Though I was promised a response, I have not heard back yet.

One need only look at the face on a twenty-dollar bill for proof that we are either celebrating historical figures without knowing their roles in history or simply colluding with it.

What’s in a word? According to the letter I received from McCain’s office, he states, “Unfortunately, the land exchange bill was stalled for many years through opposition by some environmentalist groups. In addition, a number of Native American tribes raised concerns that the land exchange would transfer away a small Forest Service campsite, known as ‘Oak Flat Campground,’ where certain traditional activities were occasionally organized. While the land exchange does not involve any Indian-owned lands or federally-recognized sacred sites, a number of American Indian tribes also expressed concerns that the majestic Apache Leap Cliff—celebrated by Apache folklore—would be damaged by the mine.”

Though we may never fully be able to walk a mile in another’s shoes, there is clearly a lack of understanding of history and culture in this statement. Oak Flat may no longer be where the San Carlos Apache live year-round because their ancestors were removed and the area was eventually made into National Forest land, but that does not diminish its importance as a sacred ancestral site. Additionally, the word “Folklore” is different from “history.” “Folklore” suggests a tale rooted in myth, rather than actual event in history. The story of Apache Leap is the latter.

Also listed as a concession in the same letter is that the San Carlos Apache are welcome to use the Oak Flat Campground area “for as many years until company needs to mine underneath it.” Oak Flat is to the San Carlos Apache as Mt. Sinai is to the Christian faith. Seen in these terms, it would be hard to conjure a situation which allows for the destruction of such a sacred place specific to location.

But another phrase that deserves scrutiny is the term, “prisoner of war,” a group of words used by both John McCain and the Apache to describe their respective experiences. Though John McCain suffered as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, the Apache still consider themselves to be prisoners of war in their own country today. I read John McCain’s moving dissertation about what it was like for him to be held prisoner of war for those five years. The report is without a doubt horrific. None of us is immune to the effects of tragic events or trauma in our lives. Each of us struggles to deal with the aftermath of such experiences. We take it upon ourselves to understand and heal or even make reparations if necessary. It is hard to imagine that a man who experienced such a traumatic course of events would be capable of endorsing an action that further marginalizes a population historically removed from that site only to be held as prisoners of war nearby. Perhaps if left untreated, our own personal wounding is how we wound others. It seems now that Congress has not only the opportunity but the obligation to listen to citizens who are disenfranchised in this country before giving away to a foreign mining company land that has religious and cultural significance.

If the issue is job creation, I believe the state of Arizona can find companies who want to develop sustainable farming techniques or sustainable environmentally sound energy sources. Schools create jobs. Hospitals create jobs. Even ecologically-sound tourism creates jobs, especially in an area known for its hiking and rock climbing. When compared to the sustainability of bringing other kinds of jobs to the area, this copper mine falls short. Mining creates jobs for a few decades and then leaves the place worse off than it was before. In other words, if we are talking about employment, mining is the least sustainable option for lowering the unemployment rate. But we are not talking about employment. We are talking about profit. And that is the problem. It is language. Resolution Copper and Senator McCain are selling the idea of the mine by saying the mine will create jobs. What I believe they are really doing is finding language to cover up the story of why we mine in the first place and how easy it is still to take Indian land and expropriate it without legal repercussions.

But what alternatives do people have for work in a place where companies won’t invest inside the reservation and where it is practically impossible to start a business without capital? Leading the movement in re-imagining work possibilities for Native Americans today are young activists such as Krystal Rain Two Bulls. Two Bulls is Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne. She grew up in a family dedicated to working for the people at a grass roots level through nonprofits. She is inspired by women like Winona Duke and Elouise Cobell, who paved the way for Native Americans to find a foothold in the work world through creating their own nonprofits to buy back tribal lands and return them to their original condition for traditional uses. Both women used nonprofits as tools to accomplish their greater goals as environmental and cultural activists. There are many indigenous people in our country today who remember how to work in harmony with the Earth’s cycles in a sustainable way. As Dr. Steven Boyd from Wake Forest University states, these are the very people who “could most help us with the current ecological crisis and our own alienation from so much of the natural world.” Nonprofit organizations could create these kinds of educational experiences.

Krystal Rain Two Bulls sees the power of nonprofits in the Native American world. Nonprofits garner outside funding to support projects important and necessary to Native people, affording entrepreneurial opportunities for groups of people who otherwise feel their hands are tied in terms of capital investments for businesses. Her own burgeoning nonprofit, Voices of the Sacred, provides a holistic approach for young people looking to enter into the nonprofit world, beginning with self care. “Our mission is to create leaders among Native youth and empower them to find their voices through the creative arts and then use those voices to create change within their respective communities.” She goes on to add, “Colonialization has hit us hard to the extent we need someone from the outside world to invest and provide validation.” With the nonprofit model, she says, “We don’t need to fit into anyone’s vision. We can create our own way of living and being based on who we are.” In cases like Oak Flat, where a mining company is providing a tempting short-term solution to job shortages, she adds, “If we are going to say no to something like that, then we need to provide people with an alternative.” In her experience, creating nonprofits supports not only individuals, but communities at large by preserving culture at its root.

Oak Flat Rally

The San Carlos Apache at the Oak Flat Rally on the Capitol came a long way at their own expense to tell the government their story and to remind us all that we are all stewards of this Earth. Each one of us. The only way to rectify this error is if members of Congress express support for H.R. 2811, the Save Oak Flat Act, introduced by Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva, which would repeal the bill that puts Oak Flat in harm’s way. Please ask your Representatives to co-sponsor H.R. 2811 and ask your Senators to draft a companion bill in the Senate so the Bill will get to the floor or committee during this congressional session.

For more information on how to help, please visit the Apache Stronghold website.

We can begin to heal the wounds of the past together.


Works Cited

Free Exercise Clause, Legal Information Institute (Cornell University Law School)

San Carlos Apache Leader: ‘What Was a Struggle to Protect Our Most Sacred Site Is Now a Battle’ by Gale Courey Toensing (Indian Country Media Network, Jan. 27, 2015)

Frequently Asked Questions, Indian Affairs (U.S. Department of the Interior)

Pueblo Indians, Countries and Their Cultures (

The Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, and American Exceptionalism” (Challenging Christian Hegemony)

NY Tribes in Decades-long Battle with Gov. Cuomo, Lawyers for Rights to Their Land” by Christine Graef (Mint Press News, Sept. 3, 2014)

Declaration of Independence (Constitution Society)

Mining company says it’s committed to Superior’s success” by Emily Bregel (Arizona Daily Star, Dec. 21, 2014)

Learn about WELRP (The White Earth Land Recovery Project)

On Being Here with Others: Space, Identity and Justice” by Stephen Boyd (Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality, January 2010)

Native Americans and the Law: Native Americans Under Current United States Law” by Lindsay G. Robertson (The University of Oklahoma Law Center, June 2001)



Photos of Oak Flat Rally by Wendy Kenin

Photo of Superior, Arizona captured by John Ramos