Young Apache Stronghold speaks out

On Thursday, Naelyn Pike joins the show. She was one of the youngest people to ever testify in front of Congress at age 13, When she spoke against mining at Oak Flat. Graham Lee Brewer is an associate editor for Indigenous Affairs at High Country News and a regular contributor to NPR and the New York Times.
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Naelyn Pike was one of the youngest people to ever testify in front of Congress at age 13, when she spoke against mining at Oak Flat.

She has continued speaking out and sharing information about Apache Stronghold, the Oak Flat protection organization she leads with her grandfather and mother, Vanessa Nosie, and its mission to keep the sacred area and others safe from extraction.

This March, she wrote a testimony for the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States on The Irreparable Environmental and Cultural Impacts of the Proposed Resolution Copper Mining Operation.

We are also joined by Graham Lee Brewer, an associate editor for Indigenous Affairs at High Country News and a regular contributor to NPR and the New York Times. He is a board member at the Native American Journalists Association and a Cherokee Nation citizen.

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Some quotes from today's show

Naelyn Pike 

“I felt a glimpse of hope right now. We're in a crucial time with the Oak Flat fight against Resolution Copper and Tonto National Forest. So to see Biden's administration put a hold on the land exchange, I think it's the first step of many steps that need to come. Because as of right now, even though the land transfer has been halted, it doesn't mean that it will be completely protected. We need a congressional act to put that in place for the protection of Oak Flat. But in this long fight that we've been fighting to protect this place. I see that people are really waking up and I think that Biden's administration kind of needs to understand that this climate action plan that they have, or that they want to put in process for the United States, this mine will not coincide with that. And so I think that's a good realization for his administration to see that, and I hope to see it to be protected forever.” 

"“I think about when I was 13 and I first testified in front of Congress, I always tell them I'm young, I'm thinking, so I'm going to come back like, we keep coming back, it takes persistence. You have to be consistent because you think about Congress, it's always changing. You get different political leaders who are elected in and who don't know the issue and things like that. So we have to keep telling our story, but part of the fight is that we have to take action. It has to take consistency and we have to just keep doing it and doing it. And we're fine with that. And the reason why we have to be fine with that is because it's the future, that's at stake. We have so much at stake in this country and it's not, it's the survival of our Apache religion, it’s what we're fighting for. And so if this land exchange was to go through, it's our religion and our way of life and the land is being murdered and the spirits being murdered. And to us, and, to my family, to my grandfather and it's really looking at our survival and, it's kind of like life or death.”

Graham Brewer

"This really kind of stemmed from a 2007 vote of the people in the Cherokee Nation to add the words 'by blood,' to the constitution, which I think was an indirect result of just a few years earlier when the freedmen were officially given citizenship status. But, really the reason we're talking about it today is because the 2017 federal court decision, which ruled that the freedmen were citizens and that by excluding them from our citizenship status rules, that we were in violation, the Cherokee Nation was in violation of an 1866 treaty with the federal government. So really that all kind of was what led up to the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court officially weighing in to remove that language from our constitution, or I guess, find it void. And, so that's kind of where we're at now is that you know, it kind of stemmed most recently, or it manifested itself most recently in a freedmen, who's running for tribal council, Marilyn Van and some opposition by some tribal citizens to her candidacy because of that language in the constitution."

"I think a lot of the discussion around the freedman, especially in the last couple of decades has really revolved around race. I do find it interesting that a lot of the discussions within circles in the Cherokee Nation don't bring up the Shawnee or Delaware descendants who were also benefit from this ruling. And so I think that kind of lends itself to this like hyper racialized discussion. And it brings up some ugly questions about anti-black racism that's existed within our tribe. I think it's important to remember that, there were plenty of Cherokees who were slave holders that enslaved humans and, and just as the nation is dealing with that painful and violent legacy.”

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix.


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