Tucson is Getting Fired Up!

The Global Justice Center in Tucson is the place to be this Friday, Feb. 12. The fight to protect sacred Oak Flat continues at this free event, where Apache Stronghold leaders Wendsler Nosie, Sr. and Naelyn Pike will speak. Food will be served at 6PM and a new movie about the struggle at Oak Flat will premiere.

What more could you ask for, Tucson? I envy you! It will be a great night with great people, don’t miss your chance to participate.

More information can be found at www.apache-stronghold.com or email oakflat.tucson@gmail.com.

Tucson save oak flat

Tribute

The world lost a beloved brother yesterday with the passing of a very special member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Director of the Tribe’s Culture Center. He gave so much to so many, and will be greatly missed.

He was recognized in 2011 by the state of Arizona with the prestigious Arizona Indian Living Treasure Award. His work included making and playing the Apache flute and violin, coiled basketweaving, bows and arrows, storytelling, moccasins, campdress, ceremonial buckskin dress and skirt, pottery, beadword, ceremonial drum, carving traditional pieces, creating writing and setting up ceremonial wickiups.

He was one of the warm, wise people who met us at Oak Flat on the last day of our walk. He had made a pair of moccasins for Emma and I, the most beautiful pair of shoes we will ever have. He presented this precious gift to us, and taught us how to wear them. I don’t know what the temperature was that August day, but we felt cool and comfortable once we took off our hot walking boots and wriggled into the soft new mocs. Receiving this gift was one of the great honors of my life, and I will never forget him.

In addition to his wisdom (which had great depth, steeped in Apache Tradition and recognized with a Master of Fine Arts degree) he had a rare and enormous sense of humor and wit. Prayers for this beautiful man and his family. He truly was a treasure among men.

Herb at Oak Flat

We honor the Apache culture which teaches us that out of respect, we do not yet mention his name.

 

Seattle Walk: Feb 27, 2016

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Apache Stronghold is marking the one-year anniversary of their occupation of sacred Oak Flat on Feb. 26-27. Join a short walk (under 5 miles, at a gentle pace) in Seattle to show your support on Sat. Feb. 27, 2016.

Why is this important to Seattlites?

Because we believe in religious freedom. Oak Flat is a sacred Apache site. If you believe religious freedom in America is not just meant for Christians, join us.

Because we honor our indigenous neighbors. Our city is named for Chief Seattle, show your respect by walking to protect the rights of all indigenous people fighting to save Mother Earth.

Because we care about the environment. A lot of people come to the Pacific Northwest because of its natural beauty. Saving Oak Flat is not just about saving one parcel of land, it’s about taking a stand to protect the beauty and balance of nature for future generations.

Details of the walk to follow, stay tuned.

 

Walk With Me

Upon returning home from our cross-country walk to Oak Flat there was no question that Emma and I would continue looking for ways to support the occupation and do what we can to help those at the forefront of protecting the sacred site.

Our belief in religious freedom and environmental stewardship were strengthened tenfold by our experiences on the road and at Oak Flat. Meeting the good people of the Chiracahua Apache Nation and the many friends of the Apaches told our hearts that we were walking on the right path.

But exactly what can we do to help? We are now almost 2,000 miles away. I wake up in the morning and think of the bright sun coming up over the ridge at Oak Flat, warming the freezing night air. The ancient oak trees stand tall, flanked by acres of shrubs and smaller plants – just as those same trees have done for hundreds and hundreds of years. I think about Oak Flat while I sit in my chilly house, warming my feet by the fire, picking through my firewood to find dry wood after one of the wettest Decembers recorded in Washington state.

What can we do? One thing is certain – whatever we do, we need to do it together. I know that together our power is greater than that of our adversary. We must be single-minded in our resolve to save Oak Flat.

The first thing I will do is continue to walk to save Oak Flat – in my neighborhood. Daily walking sets aside a time to meditate on the positive steps we can take together.

I invite you to join me, whether you walk a few miles or just out to the mailbox and back. Put on your shoes and your coat and go outside. Say Thank You for the day, the air, the sun, the rain, the birds, the mud. Think about Oak Flat while you walk. Then go home and do your work.

Step One in making a difference is to remember. It’s not enough to say, “Oh, I heard about that, so sad.” Remember what’s there now, and hold it in your heart. Remember every day that Oak Flat is still there. Then we’ll work together to keep Oak Flat safe not just for ourselves, but for those who come after us.

 

 

 

Letter to Superior Town Council

The Town Council of Superior, Arizona – the nearest town to Oak Flat, and the starting point for the last day of our walk – is deliberating over whether to support the Save Oak Flat Act currently in Congress.

In an article from Copperarea.com (read the article here: http://bit.ly/1MX6llG) dated Nov. 17, 2015, James Hodl wrote, “Whether the Superior Town Council should take sides in an effort to undo a land swap between Resolution Copper and the San Carlos Apache Tribe approved by Congress last December has been put off until the Council collects more information on the issue.”

Many people ask how they might help save Oak Flat. Here’s a chance to use your right to free speech to let the Town Council members know how you feel. For me, if the mine is not stopped, there is no way I’ll ever set foot in that part of Arizona again. Superior will not see another dime of my money in its restaurants, motels, the local arboretum, or museums.

I am sending the letter below to the members of the Council so they can understand that their decision matters to me, and if they work toward a sustainable future, they can count on my continued support of their businesses. You are welcome to copy and paste the same text; if you care about the future of Oak Flat, please take a moment to relay that message to those noted at the bottom of this page.

Superior is a nice little town steeped in history and surrounded by beauty. I hope the Town Council decides to keep it that way.  -Sally

 

To the Town Council of Superior:

I have been following the mine proposal from Resolution Copper and I understand the Council is discussing whether or not to support the Save Oak Flat Act. If the mine is built, I will no longer come to Superior or Pinal County, and I will advise my friends and family to do the same.

Though the backdrop of Apache Leap makes it a place of great natural beauty, I have no interest in visiting a place that has a tailings dump in the area. Everyone knows that tailings are never good for one’s health, and often leach carcinogens for decades or centuries to come.

I’ve been reading about the situation at Oak Flat, and about the environmental devastation and bad human rights history of Rio Tinto/BHP, and I fear for the people of Superior if this project continues.

I understand the need for jobs; the people of Superior are no different than me in this respect. But if you work toward building motels, restaurants, and coffee shops, those are businesses I would be excited about patronizing. If you develop the town in this way, I will make a point to visit Superior whenever I am in the area.

I respectfully request that you will decide to invest in a future that takes into consideration the long-term environmental impact of the area. I am hopeful that you will protect Superior and the area from big business that will do a great deal more harm than good in the long run, so that my children and grandchildren will be able to visit your lovely town.

Thank you for your careful deliberation.

Superior Town Council:

Mayor: Jayme Valenzuela

Vice Mayor: Olga Lopez

Council Members: John Tameron, Steve Estatico, Michael Alonzo,             Mila Besich Lira, Gilbert Aguilar

Superior Town Council Address:

PO Box 218

199 N. Lobb Ave.

Superior, AZ  85173

Phone: 520-689-5752

 

 

The Court Case that Took Away Indigenous Rights

protesters speaking out for protection of sacred sites

protesters speaking out for protection of sacred sites, 1987

protestors speaking out to protect sacred Oak Flat, 2015

protestors speaking out to protect sacred Oak Flat, 2015

Hi everyone,

Emma here. I am currently wading my way through the first months of college and trying to balance activism, school work, and extracurriculars. It’s tough! But Oak Flat is on my mind every day. My dorm room is adorned with “Save Oak Flat” signs and bananas, and each night before bed I light a candle in prayer for Oak Flat.

The taking of sacred land is an issue that affects indigenous people all over the country, and the world. I recently spoke briefly with Dr. Gwen Point, a member of the Skowkale First Nation in British Colombia, when she came to my school to speak. I asked her about protection of sacred sites in Canada. She told me that issues with the goverment trying to harvest resources off of sacred land persist in that country as well.

Our walk instilled in me a passion for justice. With that in mind, I decided to enroll in a law class about American legal systems. One assignment we have is to pick a court case and research it, then report back to the class. I chose a case that I keep hearing snippets about in Indigenous communities, the case that changed everything for the religious rights of Native people. It is called Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association. 

This case took place in 1988, 10 years after the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. For those not familiar, this Act was based of the 1st amendment right to freedom of religion, and gave Native people the “inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.” On the surface this law sounds great. To me, it certainly sounds like it would protect sacred spaces such as Oak Flat. But the court case I’m about to tell you about changed all that.

In 1982 the US Forest Service was creating a plan to construct a new road through the Six Rivers National Forest. This road would aid in the harvesting of timber in the area. But there was a problem.

Native people said that this land was sacred. The Yurok, Karuk, and Tolowa Nations felt that development of a road and removal of trees would destroy the integrity of the area, a space where their people went to pray, hold ceremonies, and carry out traditional rituals. The Forest Service themselves even commissioned a study of the area that found that damage done to the land because of the road would be severe and irreparable to the sacred site. Yet just as the Environmental Impact Statement being carried out at Oak Flat has no teeth and no effect on whether the mine will be built, this statement had no power; the Forest Service decided to ignore the study’s findings and go ahead with their plans.

The three Nations, joined by environmental groups and the state of California, filed suit. They hoped for an injunction that would prevent any further development on their sacred land. The District court agreed that this development violated their right to religious freedom, and issued an injunction.

The Forest Service appealed.

The Appellate court also agreed and upheld the injunction.

Again, the Forest service appealed. The case was then brought before the United States Supreme Court.

This Supreme Court Case changed everything. In a 5-3 decision the court said that “construction of the proposed road does not violate the First Amendment regardless of its effect on the religious practices of the respondents because it compels no behavior contrary to their belief.” The Court’s decision has had devastating impacts on Native people around this country; it essentially says that sacred sites are offered no protection if they serve some “greater” purpose (ie if they contain valuable resources) that the federal government desires.

Not only is this decision incredibly destructive to the religious rights of first nations people, but the court’s reasoning is both illogical and offensive.

They claimed that, “Whatever rights the Indians may have to the use of the area, however, those rights do not divest the Government of its right to use what is, after all, its land.” Yet the land in question was forcibly taken from Native people many years ago; Native people did not consent to the drawing of borders that transformed land that belonged to no one (and thus, everyone) to land that was federally owned. The opinion also stated that “this Court cannot determine the truth of the underlying beliefs that led to the religious objections here,” suggesting that the Native people involved in this case were simply making up the whole thing. This ridiculous notion is even more appalling in light of the fact that a study was conducted that proved the religious nature of this area.

I would encourage anyone who has a few minutes to read the case for themselves. The dissenting opinion is incredibly eloquent and contains many intelligent points. Justice Brennan points out that “by defining respondents’ injury as “nonconstitutional,” the Court has effectively bestowed on one party to this conflict the unilateral authority to resolve all future disputes in its favor, subject only to the Court’s toothless exhortation to be “sensitive” to affected religions. In my view, however, Native Americans deserve — and the Constitution demands — more than this.” Brennan is right. This precedent that puts government interests over the rights of individuals is absolutely unjust and unconstitutional.

It’s time for us to over turn this ridiculous precedent that creates a standard so low that sacred sites are offered almost no protection.

I hope in my lifetime to see another sacred site case make it to the Supreme Court so we can reverse this decision.

I hope in my lifetime the United States federal government will forge a new relationship with First Nations, one of mutual respect, and one in which they believe what Native people say when they call an area sacred.

And I hope that we can come to a point at which everyone understands why we must protect and preserve the few untouched and natural spaces that are still left on this earth.

Until then, I’ll keep working towards that goal. I think we’ll get there.

With hope,

Emma

Ten Ways to Help

Hello folks!

We’ve been busy working to raise awareness back in our home state of Washington. During these past months we’ve recieved quite a few inquiries about what people can do to help with the Oak Flat cause, so we’ve put together a list of ten ways you can help save Oak Flat. Thanks for your continued support, and keep up the good fight.

With thanks,

Emma and Sally

Ten Ways You Can Help Save Oak Flat

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  1. Know the Facts

The first step to effective advocacy is to understand the issue. Visit www.walktosaveoakflat.com and www.apache-stronghold.com to learn the history and current events of Oak Flat. You don’t have to memorize all of the ins-and-outs, but know the basics of the story so you can speak about the issues and answer peoples’ questions accurately.

2. Contact your Representative

Sometimes it feels like calling or emailing your representative doesn’t do much, but legislative insiders say it really does make a difference. You can look up the contact information for your representative at www.congressmerge.com/onlinedb/index.htm or schedule an appointment with a staffer at www.house.gov/representatives/. Feel free to use our sample letter available at walktosaveoakflat.com/donate-to-the-walk/.

Whether you contact your representative by phone, email, or in person, your focus should be on HR 2811, the Save Oak Flat Act. The Act was introduced in the House of Representative over the summer of 2015, and is in the early stage of the lawmaking process. Ask your representative to be a co-sponsor and support the bill.

3. Contact the Representatives on the Natural Resources Committee

The Save Oak Flat Act is currently sitting in the House Committee on Natural Resources. To move forward, the bill must have a hearing. You can view a list of committee members here: naturalresources.house.gov/about/members.htm. Contact the Chairman Rob Bishop asking for a hearing on HR 2811, and get in touch with other committee members as well if they are from your state.

4. Spread the Story on Facebook and Twitter

If you’re on Facebook, Like Apache Stronghold and Saving Oak Flat Campground Facebook pages, and visit them often to keep up with news, new petitions, and events that need your support. A lot of people across the U.S. still don’t know about the Oak Flat giveaway, so spreading the word via social media to an ever-broadening circle is essential.

Twitter is another great way to reach a lot of new people Retweet news about Oak Flat news and stories you see on Facebook. Use #SaveOakFlat and #OakFlat, and try to point Tweets at big groups who might not be in the loop (such as @CBSnews, @YoungDemocrats, @NationalParks.)

5. Spread the Story in writing

Write a story for your local newspaper or send a letter to the editor. We can share photos to help you give a good pitch.

If you want to try your hand at writing a magazine article, think about writing with a point of view that’s relevant to you. For example, are you a student? If so, you can write an article about why you want Oak Flat to be preserved so that you’ll get to take your own kids there someday. Write from a parent’s or grandparent’s point of view. Write as a hiker, climber, or camper. Something has drawn you to want to help- what is it? Write about that.

There are so many print and online magazines, the possibilities are endless. You can find submission guidelines online.

6. Sign Petitions

There have been a number of petitions that have circulated for Oak Flat, so if you see a note for a petition take a moment to read it and sign if you haven’t already. It may not seem like it has an effect but it’s important to help each person circulating a petition to build a strong case. Apache Stronghold, The Sierra Club, AVAAZ, Rep. Grijalva, and the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition have all circulated petitions, and you can sign each one.

7. Set up a Table at an Event, School, or Church

Can you set up a table and share the story at an event, school, church, Rotary, or other meeting? We can help you with a Power Point presentation to show on your laptop and flyers to hand out. Plan in advance and let us know if you need materials.

Always be sure to ask permission before you set up and follow the rules an organization sets out for its participants. This is a peaceful protest and will be won with dignity and respect, so please reflect that in your presentation.

If you have a large audience and would like to see if someone from Apache Stronghold can come to your event, ask and we’ll see if it’s possible to send a spokesperson to your area.  

8. Buy a T-Shirt

Buy and wear a Protect Sacred Oak Flat T-shirt at Facebook/protectsacredoakflat.com. Your purchase supports the cause and you help spread the word when you wear your shirt – plus you look totally cool!

9. Donate to Apache Stronghold

Resolution Copper has lots of money to put toward media campaigns, buying ads on Google, supporting Congressional candidates who walk their talk. Your donation to Apache Stronghold helps fund print materials, speaking engagements, media campaigns, and the Oak Flat occupation.

10. Join the Occupation

If you have the resources available to do so, come see Oak Flat in person. You’ll understand the cause better than anything you can read if you spend some time on site. Get to know those who’ve been occupying for the long haul, share meals, and swap stories. The campsite is part of the Tonto National Forest, and as such, is yours to visit. See Apache Leap, hike the trails, sleep in the desert under a blanket of stars. It will definitely be an unforgettable experience.

What Oak Flat Means to Us

shrine at Oak Flat

Walking into Oak Flat was an experience we’ll never forget. Months of hard work, challenges, and joys all came together as we took our first steps into camp. Many people stood waiting for us, smiling and cheering as we entered with our dog Waldo, and the other brave people who had joined us for our final day of walking. Tears came to our eyes as the campground came into view and we took the last steps of our three-month walk.

For those who met us as we came into Oak Flat, and for those who walked with us on that final week, we want to say thank you. The kindness and generosity that flows out of the San Carlos Apache community is overwhelming. And to those who couldn’t be there in person but have supported us along the way, whether financial or spiritually, we thank you as well. It took the support of many people, both friends and strangers, for us to complete this journey.

The experience we had at Oak Flat was unforgettable. Never before have we met so many strangers who immediately felt like family. Never before have we seen so many passionate, dedicated activists united in one place. Apache Stronghold and their supporters are up against an incredibly wealthy mining company that has lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians. But we know this fight will be won because the power of Oak Flat is so strong it can be felt throughout the camp, the country, the world.

Anyone who questions whether Oak Flat is sacred need only visit it themselves or speak with a member of Apache Stronghold to understand the truth. While we visited Oak Flat for a few precious days, we saw ancient petroglyphs, swam in a unique and breathtaking riparian swimming hole, spoke with tribal elders who shared memories of Oak Flat, and witnessed the harvest of acorns and berries used in traditional foods. There is no question that Oak Flat is a holy site. There is no question that, by giving this land to a mining company, Congress is violating the right to religious freedom. And there is no question that we must do whatever it takes to protect this land.

In the coming weeks we’ll be getting back to our jobs and everyday lives, but we will continue to keep Oak Flat in our hearts and fight to save it. We will keep our website and Facebook updated with ways you can help and information about the journey to Save Oak Flat. So stay tuned, stay alert, because we’ve only just begun.

With gratitude,

Emma and Sally

photo by Eileen Dailey

photos courtesy of our good friend Eileen Dailey

photo by Eileen Dailey

 

Before it’s too late

A recent mine wastewater spill caused the Animas River to turn a deep shade of orange

A recent mine wastewater spill caused the Animas River to turn a deep shade of orange. Toxic metals such as arsenic, lead, and copper contaminate the water.

With the recent news of the Animas River toxic spill comes a clear reminder of the potential effects of building a mine at Oak Flat. A recent letter to the Editor in AZ Central eloquently points out the connection between Animas and Oak Flat. As the author put it, “I don’t trust any promises made by companies seeking new mining permits about how they will mitigate any damage, because the track record of mining is all to clear.” And it’s not just mining in general that we should be weary of, but Resolution Copper in particular. Their parent company, Rio Tinto, has owned and been a part of many mines that resulted in permanent environmental destruction and tragic loss of life. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a company I trust with public, sacred land.

History is a wise teacher, if we will only stop to listen. We know the potential damage this copper mine could cause. We know that at the very least, it will leave behind a permanent crater on the surface of the earth, use billions of gallons of water, and create 1.5 billion tons of toxic tailings. That is the best case scenario, which in itself is a staggering fact. I shudder to think what could happen in the worst case.

Resolution Copper looks at Oak Flat and sees one valuable resource that they will do anything to extract. The San Carlos Apache and their allies look at the land in its entirety, with the understanding that it is all important. It’s not just the trees, the soil, the wildlife, or the water that makes Oak Flat special- it’s all of those coming together to create a thriving ecosystem that supports all life. But if we take away any of those elements, the environment will begin to collapse. We must realize this before it’s too late, before the problems now taking place at Animas come to Oak Flat. We can still stop this mine, if we all come together and make our voices heard. Keep up the fight!

-Emma

Gaan Canyon, as it currently flows. This clean source of freshwater could become polluted if the mine is built.

Gaan Canyon, as it currently flows. This clean source of freshwater could become polluted if the mine is built.

For want of water

 [a sign I walked past a few weeks ago]

I saw a story today that said in California they are now using fracking equipment to get groundwater that lies deep underground. 60% of annual water use now comes directly from groundwater. The article I read actually said subsidence will occur (as is also predicted to happen if Oak Flat is mined) if too much groundwater is removed, and the groundwater will not be replenished quickly enough to sustain us. In other words, using this method is an act of desperation that will not work for long.

As we’ve walked through Arizona evidence of drought is everywhere. We’ve seen only one creek with running water since entering the state, and it was filled with people- every other river bed, creek, and stream we’ve passed has been dry. I’m starting to understand the shocking statistic that only 1% of Arizona’s land contains riparian ecosystems. And one of those ecosystems, located in Gaan Canyon, is right next to Oak Flat. 

Water conservation isn’t a political issue; it’s simply a human issue. If we as a species want to survive we must take a serious look at how we are using our water. To mine at Oak Flat means the loss of billions of gallons of fresh water that currently supports a diverse array of life in Gaan Canyon and Oak Flat. Sure, copper is valuable in the short term, but is it really more valuable than water? Can it sustain life, heal illness, and support entire ecosystems? I don’t think so. 

Water is life. Let’s protect it. Let’s save Oak Flat. 

-Emma  [The beautiful Gaan Canyon located adjacent to Oak Flat]