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Oak Flat: Apaches Fight "Murder" of Sacred Site
Federally protected indigenous lands face obliteration by Australian mining company
By Janie Stein Posted in Environment, Esperanza Project, Indigenous Peoples, United States on February 15, 2019
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We have one year left to repeal the fateful decision and prevent the murder of Oak Flat, an area of great spiritual, cultural, and historic significance to many different bands, including the Apaches of San Carlos, “Arizona”. Although this very area was once designated by President Eisenhower to be protected from mining, legislative efforts began in 2005 to change that.

In 2014, after years of unsuccessful attempts to get Congress to open this area to mining, a midnight rider was placed in the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2015; the rider allowed Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of Australian mining corporation Rio Tinto, to take possession of the 3500 acres surrounding and including the Oak Flat campground, for copper and molybdenum mining, in exchange for parcels of land in other parts of the state, that would be made available for the National Forest Service to purchase.

Sunset at Oak Flat

By the company’s own projections, if this block cave mine is allowed to proceed, an area of approximately 2 miles in circumference would sink into a gaping pit one thousand feet deep. This is known as “subsidence” (sub-SIDE-ens), and it would swallow all that is held sacred here.

After years of working to keep this area safe from mining interests, in 2015 former tribal chairman Wendsler Nosie, Sr., and family, friends, and allies began what has become an annual march to Oak Flat to raise public awareness about the injustice to the Apache people and the environmental devastation and irreparable loss this project would cause.

Old San Carlos Memorial

This is the 3rd year that my husband Martin and I have joined the march. This year, similar to the two previous years that we attended, participants began with a prayer ceremony at Old San Carlos, the former Prisoner of War camp, where historically snipers were ordered to shoot any Apaches who dared to leave the compound where they were being held captive. A memorial now stands here, to those who perished and those who survived those traumatic times. After the ceremony, runners traveled from the memorial to the tribal headquarters in San Carlos.

Gathering to save Oak Flat

The next morning, participants continued their trek, running and marching in solidarity to Globe, Arizona, with signs and banners that informed passersby about the issues. Finally, the caravan arrived at Oak Flat where more ceremony, prayers, and community meals and fellowship commenced.

This year, many of us felt a special urgency, as the time grows short to stop the murder, as Wendsler calls it, of this sacred land. 2020 is the year that Rio Tinto could finalize the land swap and close off the Oak Flat campground. Oak Flat is an area where medicine and acorns and other foods were harvested historically and continue to be to this time, where coming of age and other ceremonies have been held throughout the generations and whose traditions continue on in this generation, and the people here hold a sacred connection to this land; it cannot just be tossed aside and some other land elsewhere be held up as a substitute. As Wendsler says, “This is our church.”

Many tears were shed at this year’s gathering, as mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sons, fathers, and elders lamented the fact that, if not stopped, this project will destroy the ability for future generations to be able to carry on the prayerful ceremonies and spiritual traditions in their proper spaces.

Petroglyph at one of the springs

The natural springs that give life to plants and animals here would be contaminated or completely demolished, the world class rock-climbing would be impacted, the petroglyphs destroyed, and the whole area we have come to know and love would be gone.

Oak Flat Springs

There is a spot of hope in all this, as a new Congress is now in session; the Save Oak Flat Act has been introduced into the House of Representatives as House Resolution 665, and into the Senate as Senate Bill 173. Both of these bills would repeal that part of the NDAA that permitted the land swap deal. There are also efforts afoot to strengthen environmental laws that could positively impact many of the related issues in our country.

Banner at Camp
The Ancient Ones

 This is an essential year and your support is needed. Please contact your congressional reps and tell them to cosponsor and support the Save Oak Flat bills that will repeal the land swap. Updates are available at    and for more info, and have informative articles on the subject.

mining Oak Flat Resolution Copper Rio Tinto San Carlos Apache Wendsler Nosie

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      1. Are you, or a representative from your organization available to do an interview? I’m in the area this month and I produce a radio program on two stations in Ohio. I’ve been following this story and interviewed Mr. Nosie previously on this subject.

  1. Thanks for this insightful article. May many people now help out by the simple but important act of calling congress people.

  2. I pray that the elected officials do their job and honor President Eisenhower to protect our natural resources for all life. Wow so ashamed that they stoop so low to harm our environment.

  3. whenever the people in power think there is a DOLLAR to be made, all human scruples disappear. Same old same old story – one group trying to dominate another in all matters including spirituality. If we do not learn from history we are bound to repeat it – truer words were never spoken. For what it may be worth, my heart and thoughts go out to my Apache neighbours – NEVER stop fighting for the right reasons !!

  4. YAHOO!!! This is but a small victory in the war to stop the desecration of sacred lands but the fight must not stop until these lands are once again protected from oil, mineral and development companies.

    (Former President Bill Clinton established the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. In December, Trump cut the 1.87 million-acre site, the largest land national monument in the country, roughly in half. The administration also shrunk the nearby 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent. The moves opened the door for oil, gas and mineral extraction.
    Noel, a Trump ally and vocal opponent of the Clinton-era monument, owns a 40-acre parcel that was removed from the monument’s boundary as part of Trump’s rollback.)

    1. Wow – that is a rare bit of good news! Thank you for taking the time to share, Robert – you are right, the fight goes on – but let’s celebrate the victories when we can!

  5. wonderful information about Oak Flat…. please keep this land pure this is very important part of the history and enough land has been taken away already ..

  6. As a foreigner who travels regularly to your country meaning the country that once belonged to the first nations I visit sacred grounds of history. I respect the land and all it has to offer with it’s natural resources that the original inhabitants have protected for our generation. It is therefore our responsibility to protect for this generation and our children’s to come. I cannot understand why preservation is not of the utmost importance. Please keep mining away. They have polluted the streams and ground water enough. Respect what land the Indians have left. Preserve your country for us all to enjoy in the future. Rio Tinto have made their fortunes keep them out. Thank you.

  7. Used to go to the Phoenix Bouldering Contest at Oak Flats years ago. I am saddened and pissed off about all that is going on. Would like to attend the next gathering to save this beautiful and sacred place. When is it? Thanks

    1. Thank You for your comments! I don’t have confirmation of the 2020 dates, but it is usually the 2nd weekend in Feb., so that would be Feb. 7-9th, extrapolating from last year’s dates.