Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 11, 2015

Sandra Rambler: Traditionally Speaking Apache Oak Flat Spiritual Gathering

San Carlos Apache Sandra Rambler reflects on the defense of Oak Flat and all that is sacred, after Sen. McCain's copper mining sneaks through in the defense bill

By Sandra Rambler, San Carlos Apache
Censored News
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“Yu’shdaa,” my grandmother would often say to us, which meant, “Come here.”  She would sit us down and begin explaining what all the millions and billions of dollars in the world cannot buy.  Our Apache heritage.
As we were growing up, my brothers would often chop wood for our wood stove while my cousins and I were learning how to make dough for fry bread or tortillas.  Those were the days when we were going to have either fresh fish or quail or rabbit for dinner.
Memories of my youth ran through my mind as I ventured to walk in some parts of the spiritual march as part of the All Nations Spiritual Gathering at Oak Flat which began on Wednesday evening, Feb. 4th with a rally, the two-day march on Feb. 5 and 6 and the prayer ceremony on Feb. 7 and 8 at Oak Flat.
As I was getting tired, I kept thinking of our dearly beloved grandmother.  I kept hearing her words, “Yu’shdaa!”

She was encouraging me to go as far as I could, but I couldn’t walk all the way but did the best that I could.  My prayers didn’t stop, it kept going into the weekend as the spiritual marching continued into the second day and then the ceremonial dancing into the fourth and fifth day at Chi’Chil’Bilda’Goteel (Oak Flat).
Just as our grandmother had so much love for us, so does our mother as she drove behind those walking in the spiritual march and kept honking her horn and waving and speaking to the walkers along the way.  She was truly inspiring for me and what a joy it was to have her and her sister be beside her as they cheered.
Many of our tribal members that participated did so as a family.  And you could see the strength of each family as they helped one another.
As we got near the Miami Shrine, we got word that DPS might arrest us because we would be blocking the road.  Again, more prayers were said.  This time, no one got arrested.  Then I started thinking about the time when one of our dedicated members and a tribal leader, Wendsler Nosie, Sr., got arrested for praying on top of Dzil Nchaa Si An (Mount Graham).  But his trespassing charges were later dismissed.  And here he was walking, along with dedicated tribal members, even if they had blisters on their feet, the 44-mile spiritual walk would seem like they were floating on the air because of their personal prayers and all those encouraging words and horns honking as tribal members and nonmembers drove by.  One would read the sign and yell, “Save Oak Flat!”
There were so many people that came from all over Indian Country and even NCAI officials.  It is hard to find the words to thank all those that came even our own Apache youth to our elders.
Newly crowned Miss San Carlos Apache, Cedar Williams, Missy San Carlos Apache, Jenna Phillips, Isabelle Sisto, Miss Shi’wouye Sa’an and other royalty were present.  Movie starts, Joanelle Romero blessed us with her presence.  Chesley Wilson, Sr., who is also a medicine man joined the singers.  Reverend John Mendez, Protestant Church in New Salem, North Carolina also came and said some powerful words.  He said, “If you can’t fly a helicopter, then drive a semi-truck.  If you can’t drive a semi-truck, then drive a car.  If you can’t drive a car, then ride a bike.  If you can’t ride a bike, then walk.  If you can’t walk, then crawl.  If you can’t crawl, bat your eyelids.  But, by all means, don’t ever give up the fight for your water!
Water is life and if you allow Resolution Copper to come in, your water will be contaminated and cause cancer.  Don’t let them come in and beat you.”
Prayers from other tribal nations were shared as well as songs.  The Havasupai Tribe near Grand Canyon came and they had to be transported by helicopter while some rode out of the canyon by horseback and it took them a long time to get here, but they did.
So many inspiring words were shared.  Joanelle Romero, actress who starred in over a dozen movies gave an awakening to the women present.  She was touched by the land where the coming of age ceremonies were held for our young Apache girls.  She said to keep protecting our burial sites and especially to protect all living things and especially our water.
The tribal leaders including Chairman Terry Rambler, Vice-Chairman, Tao Etpison, Councilmembers Mitch Hoffman and Bernadette Goode (Seven Mile Wash), Fred Ferreira and Wendsler Nosie, Sr. (Peridot) were refreshing and send a strong message that the San Carlos Apache Tribal Council were unified in all the resolutions passed to oppose the land exchange.
The medicine plants that heal our tribal members that have arthritis, heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure and other diseases will be destroyed.  The emery oak trees that have produced acorn for hundreds and hundreds of years will be destroyed which we all gather and eat.  The streams that run along the various cliff dwellings will be forever contaminated.  The petroglyphs will be destroyed.  The remains of our ancestors will be desecrated.  The land on which we have our holy ceremonies will be desecrated.  The air that we breathe without a moment’s hesitation will be polluted.  Imagine that?
Senator John McCain does not care about how we feel as Apaches.  All he cares about is money and the glory of being called a “Copper King.”  We know that does not takes us back to our Creator God.  It’s what’s in our hearts and minds and how we humble ourselves in these trying times is what we will be judged on.  Not how much money we have or what we own.
John McCain is a Veteran.  Maybe it’s time we got our Veterans from Indian Country to speak up and to let him know what he did was wrong!  And that he can still correct it and not let the land exchange happen.
And to the tribal members who sold us out, I prayed for you, too.  So that in the future, you will think twice before you hurt the unborn Apache.  Before you would “lie” and say that the Apaches say it’s okay to build the mine.  It’s not okay!  Think twice, next time.  Don’t sell your soul for money and let Resolution Copper take 6 billion gallons of water a year to run that proposed mine.  Don’t do it.
Our ancestors were at Oak Flat.  They are still there.  The Apache spirit was alive!  And will stay alive.  Thank you to all our tribal members for their words of encouragement and support as the prayers continue in our sweats and holy blessing ceremonies (Feb. 14-15) and (Feb. 21-22) at Oak Flat.  And the All Nations Spiritual Gathering continues at Oak Flat with the Apaches leading the way!  Ahi’yihe! Ashoong!

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