Holy Ground Desecrated at Site of Apache Resistance to Mine
Vandals destroy crosses, eagle feathers at Oak Flat Campground
By Wendsler Nosie
On March 17th, a representative of the Apache Stronghold arrived to Oak Flat, Arizona and found that the four crosses of an Apache holy ground had been intentionally destroyed. Two of the crosses were missing, ripped from the ground and two of the crosses have been left standing, but destroyed with what appears to be an axe. Evidence of large tires driving through the space covered the dirt surrounding and through the site of prayer. Ceremonial eagle feathers were left laying on the ground.
The Apache Stronghold is demanding an immediate response from Forest Service and law enforcement officials, and is asking local leaders to condemn this hate crime to help ensure that it does not happen again. Law enforcement has been called on to investigate the action and pursue those responsible as a potential targeted crime towards the Apache people and their spiritual practice.
On February 8, 2014, hundreds of people gathered at the Oak Flat Campground to hold a gathering in protest of a proposed copper mine that would decimate the area an hour east of Phoenix.. Chi'Chil'Ba'Goteel, also known as Oak Flat, has been a sacred site for Apache people for time immemorial. The proposed copper mine is a direct assault on the spiritual practice of the Apache. At the 2014 gathering a group formed, calling themselves the Apache Stronghold. They remained in prayerful resistance to the mine for over a year and have held regular ceremonies on the site for the past four years. Central to these ceremonies is the holy ground where four crosses with eagle feathers attached have been staked up and used as a site of prayer.
“This site is like a church. If this attack had happened at a church, it would be considered a crime.” said Wendsler Nosie, a leader from the Apache Stronghold. “A lot of people have come here to be healed from sickness and for their loved ones, asking for blessings. Throughout the year, this has been a site for families to gather and teach their children about the land. There are federal laws that are supposed to protect a place like this. We have never seen this kind of violence against us here. There needs to be accountability for this crime.”
Under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the United States federal government is beholden to protecting Native American’s right to religious freedom, “including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.” The four desecrated crosses and feathers fall under AIRFA and are in the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service. Oak Flat is currently held as part of the Tonto National Forest.
Background about Oak Flat:
Oak Flat is an area about an hour east of Phoenix that is a sacred site known to Apaches as Chi’ch’il Bildagoteel. Also home to a diverse desert ecosystem, Oak Flat is currently federal land, held as a part of the Tonto National Forest. In December 2014, Arizona Senators McCain and Flake attached a land exchange rider to the National Defense Authorization Act. The bill included the Oak Flat land exchange gave multi-national mining company, Resolution Copper the area to build one of the world’s largest copper mine. The mine is slated to permanently decimate Oak Flat and surrounding desert features. Apache and mining reform activists had been successfully fighting the proposal for nearly a decade before this “backroom deal” was made in Congress. Currently, the Forest Service is undertaking an Environmental Impact Statement, a legally mandated assessment that must be completed before the land exchange is finalized.