In a recent video, Wendsler Nosie, member of the Apache Stronghold, spiritual leader and Land Defender at Chi’chil Bildagoteel (Oak Flat), challenged viewers to become aware of the land as you travel and ask permission to enter into different land formations as you pass through. Between Tucson and Oak Flats, the land changes many times. Down to the river, up over and through the foothills, through the high desert, through rocky places, through devastated mining places.
As I travelled to Oak Flat for the vigil on 15 January, I stopped to pray as Wendsler suggested. It was a very different way of arriving. I noticed the land so much more and the birds and the plants. There is a section of desert where there are ancient elders, grandparent saguaros with so many limbs that you can’t count them at a glance. I needed to stop and give thanks for safe passage and then ask permission to enter the next area.
Once at Oak Flat, I noticed that the Apache were busy with other things, so I set up my tent and sat down on the picnic table to pray. I had rewritten the prayer used in many countries by CPT, the litany of resistance. I also prayed a prayer by Jennifer Shrock of Mennonite Creation Care Network, adapted just for this day. When I finished, I sat and just took it in—the spirit of this place and God so alive here. A whole family of incredibly bright blue birds emerged from a small manzanita bush in front of me and disappeared into one of the ancient Oaks.
Later Wendsler, Nayine, and Vanessa, with others, took a group of us to the plateau behind the campground and took us on a short walk to see the petroglyphs, a flock or herd of every creature, including people, headed all in the same direction on a rock face. Wendsler talked about the roots of capitalism as evil, which attached itself to the people and the land, coming with the settlers.
Wendsler also talked about the victory of their brilliant legal strategy. Based on the Santa Fe Treaty of 1853, the Apache now have a lien on this land. Therefore, unless the U.S. government can prove ownership in court, they cannot sell or give it away. There is a court date on 27 January that we pray will also establish an injunction and upcoming hearings on the Apache suit based on religious rights.
The struggle for Oak Flat comes at a time when the US Forest Service in Arizona has complied with the outgoing administration and mining corporation rather than the calls of the land and the people. Thus they issued a rushed Final Environmental Impact Statement on 15 January, which would give the US Forest Service the power to carry out the land swap with Resolution Copper in 55 days.
“But the lien is like a giant Apache shield over Oak Flat, protecting it at least until the entire case is all over,” announced Apache Stronghold lawyer Michael Nixon. “Including all appeals to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, Apache Treaty Land ownership, Breach of Trust, and Freedom of Religion. Oak Flat is Apache Holy Land.”