For several years I have been attending the United Nations Permanent Form on Indigenous Issues in New York City. And during those years I have come to learn and understand how corporations and governments behave toward Indigenous Peoples when it comes to our homelands. While statements to governments were made at the Permanent Forum on behalf of Apaches regarding Oak Flat, Agent Orange contamination, genocide, militarization of our aboriginal Apache lands, and many human and cultural rights abuses, it appears the U.S. government was not listening.
The San Carlos Apache Tribe has also participated in the UNPFII, and in 2011 adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that contains protections for indigenous spiritual and cultural rights. Since I had a spiritual experience at Oak Flat, I feel obligated to do what I can to defend this holy and sacred place. It is my personal duty to help stop Resolution Copper Company from mining and destroying Oak Flat.
Oak Flat is holy and sacred not only because of spiritual and cultural traditions, but because it nourishes the Nnee with foods and herbal medicines that are only found there. Certain places contain spiritual and cultural sustenance where healing and nourishment is provided for our whole being. This is true for all peoples worldwide. Our bodies are made perfect for the environment we come from, and our Apache homelands have sustained and nourished our people for generations. Resolution Copper Company will destroy this.
We also know that water is life and gives life to all living things. We are made of water and need water to survive. When we have thunderstorms in our region, the mountains are where water is deposited before it flows downward toward the streams, rivers, underground aquifers and lakes. The water from the Oak Flat area continues eastward underground and flows down from the Pinal Mountains into Gilson Wash, then into the San Carlos River onward to the Gila River before it reaches San Carlos Lake. Our water is precious and limited. Resolution Copper Company will poison our waters and drain our aquifers.
Why do they want to expand mining at a time when global warming is the hot topic of the day? Money is what they want. Governments and corporations want to control all the natural resources so they can exploit them for their military industrial complex and technological advances. The military industrial complex, corporations and governments have big money interests in the continuation of war. They exploit natural resources like copper worldwide to advance their monetary interests through the wars they create. Gas, oil, fracking, mining, and all other forms of extractive industries power this war machine. And the war machine is powered by minerals and the lifeblood of our Nigodzan, Earth is Woman.
The legislation passed in December that gives Oak Flat and Apache Leap to Resolution Copper Company is called the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, or NDAA. It is ironic that the acronym NDAA in the phonetic Apache language means enemy. This law is enemy to the Apache and other Indigenous Peoples because it breaks laws that were made and put in place to protect holy and sacred places held in public domain by the United States government for Indigenous Peoples. This law is dangerous because it sets precedent to allow Congress and corporations to take land anywhere they desire, even Indian treaty lands, which are held in trust.
It is also dangerous to the Apache people because this bill is a war bill introduced by Sen. John McCain, Sen. Jeff Flake, Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick, and Rep. Paul Gosar, endorsed to support defense of the United States. But this bill takes away the freedom of Apache citizens to freely practice our religion, and it undercuts freedom of speech for many people, not only Apaches. Churches, religious organizations, spiritual peoples, veterans, and all people are at risk of losing their basic rights afforded by their own constitution. This is dangerous, and needs to be understood so that we realize that what happens to Indigenous Peoples can happen to all American citizens, and to all those who think they are free. We are all at risk.
This is a spiritual battle in which money is pitted against spirituality. We invite you to join many supporters of saving sacred Oak Flat and our right to religious freedom at the upcoming spiritual gathering on Feb. 7, 2015. I am asking San Carlos Apaches, and our friends in Globe, Miami, Safford, and Superior, along with Congressman, local leaders, and all people to come and pray with us for Oak Flat. All spiritual people are especially welcome. Churches, pastors, prayer warriors, medicine women and men, singers, and all our relatives from neighboring Apache Tribes are invited to attend.
Let’s save what is sacred for the future of all generations to come.
Michael Paul Hill is a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe who has been advocating for Indigenous rights, with an emphasis on cultural and spiritual rights, for several years in Apache territory, at the United Nations, and other places worldwide.
Amanda Blackhorse. Photo by Jacqueline Keeler.