The oak trees in this place were growing 400 years before Europeans permanently settled in North America. They have survived fire, insects, drought, and flooding. Even though the National Forest Service turned Oak Flat into a public campground, anyone sitting in prayerful silence, gazing at the mountains that surround the flat, will understand why this area is sacred to the Apache, O’odham, Piipash, Zuni Pueblo, Hopi, and other Indigenous peoples. For centuries they have used this place for their religious ceremonies and prayer, as well as a place to gather food and medicine. Angels live here. Oak Flat is one of the only places where prayers go directly to the Creator, according to a legal brief the Apache Stronghold brought before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The brief highlights other sacred aspects of the flat:
As the “direct corridor to [their] Apache religion,” Oak Flat is the site of key religious practices “that must take place there.” …These include the Sunrise Ceremony, Holy Ground ceremonies, sweat lodge ceremonies, the gathering of “sacred medicine plants, animals, and minerals essential to [those] ceremonies,” …specific prayers and songs, and the use of “the sacred spring waters that flows from the earth with healing powers not present elsewhere.”
And Resolution Copper, a joint effort of Australian and British mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP, plans to turn it into a 1.8-mile wide, 950-foot-deep sinkhole once it removes the copper there and sells most of it to China. Currently, the U.S. has 35-years-worth of copper reserves and sells most of what it produces annually to other countries. By Resolution Copper’s own testimony, the U.S. could meet its copper needs through recycling.
To put this sacrilege into perspective, imagine the reaction if the U.S. government granted a mining corporation the right to destroy the Grand Canyon. Imagine the breathtaking cliffs falling into the Colorado River, a water source for millions of people. What if a mining company found copper ore under Mount Rushmore or the Washington National Cathedral? Since many global minority countries do not have an understanding of sacred space, here’s a better analogy: what if a mining company found copper ore under the 0.9 square kilometres of Jerusalem’s Old City, which contains Al-Aqsa Mosque, the remnants of Herod’s temple, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?
The loss of Oak Flat would be just as catastrophic to the Indigenous Nations who are on a spiritual campaign to save it. “They declared war on our religion. We must stand in unity and fight to the very end, for this is a holy war,” Apache Stronghold founder Wendsler Nosie Sr. has said. And since the government and corporations are attacking the heart of their faith, the Apache Stronghold is responding with a spiritual campaign of resistance. They have asked CPT to accompany them with presence and prayer, as the ghoulish powers of corporate greed and white supremacy continue to triumph in the U.S. legal system.
The mining companies understood how these Nations would respond if Resolution Copper erased Oak Flat from the planet. Rio Tinto has destroyed significant sites of Indigenous herders in Mongolia, impacting their land-based culture and ancient traditions. It also committed cultural genocide at Juukan Gorge, where it blew up a cave continuously inhabited for 40,000 years and sacred to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Indigenous people in Australia. Rio Tinto said it would protect the cave and then destroyed it. The obliteration of these sites are only two examples of Rio Tinto’s long history of collusion with fascist regimes, abuse of its workers, and environmental devastation.
BHP has also proven itself a harmful actor in other countries. For example, in 2015, its tailings dam broke in Samarco, Brazil, causing a toxic slurry to pour into the town of Samarco, killing 19 people. Seven hundred families lost their homes, and 2000 people lost their livelihoods. Its coal mine in Cerrejón, Colombia displaced Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, diverted entire rivers, and left the Wayuu Indigenous people with high levels of toxic metals in their blood.
We may shake our heads at the misery that multinational corporations carry out in global majority countries. We may buy fair-trade chocolate, coffee, and clothing or boycott products made in countries that commit grave human rights abuses. But the example of Oak Flat demonstrates that multinational corporations are causing the same misery in North America.
And if you have ever wondered how you might have challenged the genocide of North American Indigenous Nations in the past, you are doing that now.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting free exercise thereof…– First Amendment, U.S. Constitution
Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.– Article 12 United Nations Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples.
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such …Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part…– United Nations Genocide Convention, Article II (c)