For Immediate Release
Wendsler Nosie, Sr., Apache Stronghold, (928) 200-7762
Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity, (602) 799-3275, firstname.lastname@example.org
Holy Ground Desecrated at Site of Apache Resistance to Arizona Mine
Vandals Destroy Crosses, Eagle Feathers at Oak Flat Campground
OAK FLAT CAMPGROUD, Ariz. - A representative of the Apache Stronghold arrived at Oak Flat, Ariz. on Mar. 17 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 had been left standing but destroyed with what appears to be an axe. Evidence of large tires driving through the space filled the surrounding dirt and went through the prayer site. Ceremonial eagle feathers were left lying on the ground.
The Apache Stronghold has demanded an immediate response from the U.S. Forest Service and law-enforcement officials and is asking local leaders to condemn this crime to help ensure it does not happen again. Law enforcement has been called to investigate the action and pursue those responsible for what constitutes a potential targeted hate crime against the Apache people and their spiritual practice.
On Feb. 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.
Chi'Chil'Ba'Goteel, also known as Oak Flat, has been a sacred site for Apache people since time immemorial. The proposed copper mine is a direct assault on their spiritual practice and culture. At the 2014 gathering a group formed, calling itself the Apache Stronghold. It remained in prayerful resistance to the mine for more than a year and has 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 had been staked up and used as a place 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, an Apache Stronghold leader. “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 U.S. federal government is required to protect American Indians’ 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 Forest Service. Oak Flat is currently held as part of the Tonto National Forest.
Background on Oak Flat
Oak Flat is an area about an hour east of Phoenix that is a sacred site known to Apaches as Chi'Chil'Ba'Goteel. Also home to a diverse desert ecosystem, it’s also currently federal land within the Tonto National Forest.
In December 2014 Arizona Sens. McCain and Flake attached a land-exchange rider to the National Defense Authorization Act. The bill included the Oak Flat land exchange and gave multinational mining company Resolution Copper the area to build one of the world’s largest copper mines.
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.
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