Apaches Holds Cross-Country Protest Against Sale Of Sacred Oak Flat Land (Photos)

| by Kathryn Schroeder

The nearly cross-country protest by a group of San Carlos Apache Native Americans from Arizona to Washington, D.C., came to a close on July 22 on the Capitol’s front lawn. They were protesting a land-swap that gives a part of their sacred Oak Flat land to a foreign mining company

The San Carlos Apaches have spent the past two weeks protesting the sale while journeying from Tucson, Arizona, to Washington, D.C, reports RT. Their stops included Arizona, Colorado, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York.

The area known as Oak Flat, part of Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, has been used for generations by the Apache for women’s coming-of-age ceremonies. The surrounding area also holds a great deal of history for the Apaches. It was a site of an Apache prisoner-of-war camp from the 1800s, and the nearby Apache Leap was where Apache warriors jumped to their deaths off a cliff instead of surrendering to the U.S. cavalry in 1870. It has also been used for centuries as an area to gather medicinal plants and acorns.

It was previously removed from consideration for mining activities in 1955 by President Dwight Eisenhower because of its natural and cultural value.

In December 2014, Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona added a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act that made the land available to mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.

(Photo Credit: Apache Stronghold/Facebook)

Under the rider, Rio Tinto will gain access to a large area of Tonto National Forest, including Apache burial, medical and ceremonial grounds.

The Washington, D.C., protest was organized by the Apache Stronghold coalition and led by Wendsler Nosie Sr. and his granddaughter, 16-year-old Naelyn Pike, to bring awareness and support to their mission to stop the land sale. It included speeches, prayers and songs, and vows to save the land that is sacred to them.

(Photo Credit: Apache Stronghold/Facebook)

Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, who introduced legislation in June to make the lands protected again, joined them. His bill has received support from the Sierra Club, National Congress of American Indians and tribes nationwide. It also has 17 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House.

"This is a violation of sacred sites and a violation of trust responsibility, and continues a historic pattern of neglecting and overlooking and ignoring the rights of Native people across this country," Grijalva told The Huffington Post.

"I’ve been fighting Congress on this issue in my life for, God, over 40 years," Nosie told The Huffington Post. "Now everybody has that great sense that the American Indians, with the religions that we have, need to come to the forefront.

"John McCain opened up the worst history in America. He opened it by attacking us, he opened it by attacking our religion and approving (a bill) to destroy it."

The Apaches are fighting to protect their way of life and the freedom to pray, worship and come of age in their sacred lands.

“The struggle to my people, it's something really sad to see, because this has been happening to us from when the colonizers have come. So if they're still doing this today, what happens for my children?” Pike said. “That's what I see: The future of our people. If this continues, there will be — we will no longer be Apache, because the identity of who we are, to come back to these sacred places and to go and pray, it's our identity, and it's just going to be stripped away.

"It’s like taking away a church. But the thing about Oak Flat is it's worse, because you can rebuild a church. Oak Flat will be completely destroyed and it could never come back."

(Photo Credit: Apache Stronghold/Facebook)

Native American sacred sites are supposed to be protected under the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act. The sale of Oak Flat goes against the law and potentially opens the doorway for similar deals to be made on Native American lands.

"This is a precedent setter, because if we do not repeal this portion of (the NDAA bill), then sacred sites and religious burial sites — all the things that are by law protected — are suddenly expendable, which sets a precedent for other parts of Indian Country," Grijalva said. "If we are to protect sacred sites, and with this fight on Oak Flat build the profile and the significance of sacred sites to Indian people, then we are setting a precedent in other places as well."

For Nosie, the protest is not just about Apache lands, but the entire political process.

“What America is learning is about the exemptions, that it's not only happening in Indian country, but it's happening in America,” Nosie said. “So here is an opportunity for American people to band together so that we can correct what Congress does in these late-night riders.”

Sources: The Huffington Post, RT

Photo credit: Apache Stronghold/Instagram via RT