Court will rehear Apache Stronghold case for religious freedom

People of all faith backgrounds rally behind the effort to save sacred Oak Flat lands and set a precedent of respect for all spiritual practices
Members of Apache Stronghold gather around a fire, Dr. Wendsler Nosie holds an eagle feather.
Photo by Steve Pavey

For years the Apache tribe and their allies have been fighting Resolution Copper, a large mining corporation, and the United States court system to protect Chi’chil Biłdagoteel (Oak Flat), a sacred pilgrimage site located within Arizona’s Tonto National Forest. On 21 March 2023, The Apache Stronghold will appear before the 9th Circuit of Appeals in Pasadena, California to argue their case yet again. 

The environmental impact of this 2 mile-wide project is undoubtedly catastrophic for the Apache, the town of Superior, the state of Arizona, and beyond. If that weren’t enough, corporate and political interests have also disregarded the sacredness of Chi’chil Biłdagoteel, a place that is home to the Apache creator, Ussen, and their ancestors. 

So the Apache Stronghold resorted to suing the United States government under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, arguing that the destruction of Oak Flat would violate their religious freedom. They lost the federal suit, bringing the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where they also lost a 2-1 decision on a three-judge panel.    

But, in a surprising turn of events, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has decided that the case should be reheard by a full panel of 11 judges. In support, CPT and other religious and spiritual groups have signed onto an amicus brief that advocates the religious freedom of all faiths – not just the Christian faith.   

A victory for Apache Stronghold would be a victory for Indigenous spirituality everywhere. If Apache Stronghold loses their case, it will expose the hypocrisy within the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, illuminating that Indigenous spirituality and Christianity are not given equal protection under the law. 

Reservist Carol Rose, who has been an organizing ally of Apache Stronghold as part of CPT’s Turtle Island Solidarity Network (TISN), will accompany their convoy from Tucson, Arizona to Pasadena, California and throughout the proceedings. 

The Apache believe strongly in the power of prayer and are asking us to join them: 

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