Protecting Oak Flat, Mount Graham

Indian Country Today

Indian Country Today Newscast on Thursday, August 6 with guests Wendsler Nosie Sr. and Báásé Pike, along with ICT intern Meghan Sullivan

The San Carlos Apache in Arizona is doing all it can to protect its sacred places from development. 

For decades, they've fought the University of Arizona and Resolution Copper to protect both Mount Graham and Oak Flat from desecration. Wendsler Nosie Sr., a former council member, compares the proposed destruction to the murder of a living being. He is Chiricahua Apache from the San Carlos Apache Nation and that's where he and his granddaughter, Báásé Pike, started the 29th Annual Mount Graham Sacred Run. 

This year they were the only two to complete the 130-mile journey due to COVID-19. The run to this sacred site allows the younger generations to understand how the spaces are corridors to a Holy place, Nosie said. The university was allowed to construct telescopes on Mount Graham and now they are coming up with new ways to protect Oak Flat. The final environmental impact statement for the proposed copper mine at Oak Flat is expected to be released by the Environmental Protection Agency this year. 60 days after its release the federal government and the multinational mining corporation will swap land and begin desecrating the Apaches' Holy place, where Sunrise Ceremonies have taken place.

Nosie and Pike join us to discuss the meaningfulness of the land and the struggles they've faced protecting it. 

Also on the program is ICT intern and Rebele Fellow Meghan Sullivan in Alaska. She talks about the impacts a proposed mine would have on Bristol Bay and on subsistence fishing.Indian Country Today Newscast

Here are a few of their comments:

Wendsler Nosie Sr.:

"[Mount Graham] goes back to these sacred and Holy places and it's our deity to reside in these areas that we're speaking of. And this is where a lot of our Holy songs, language and the prayer has come from. Coming into the present, it being exempt from the federal government from all environmental laws, really took away everything that we are to argue the point."

"Prior to that, we did take it to court with the University of Arizona. We won in the federal court in Tucson, they appeal it. Nicer court in San Francisco. We also won that 3-2 and little did we know that they're in DC lobbying for an exemption and we're given the exception from all the total loss. So that's when we began to witness the unfair act that was taking place in DC on these lands that are very important to all of us."

"One of the most important things our elders talk about was to go back to the mountain, right. And one of the things my mother really implemented is that they're corridors to take you to a Holy place. You just can't go there. So that's what began the sacred run, was to begin to initiate our children into the process of going through corridors to get to a Holy place. And that started over 29 years ago to really fight what was evil and undermined, undermining because we knew that we couldn't apply any court cases against the government because they just wiped it clean. And that's what is so crazy about this. And so it started 29 years ago."

"No, I don't from our experience with Mount Graham to Oak Flats because everything that was recorded from the military, from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and everybody else that our tribal leaders met a hundred years ago means nothing today. We really have to look at that and really make the decisions of how we're going to protect the future. So for me personally, it's always undermining the Indian people, we were told the last battles would be our religion and we have to stand up for the religion. And we were told that and we're in that day today. And if we don't protect that, then we're gonna lose these very special places in North America." 

Báásé Pike:

"What's happening now on Oak Flat, well, one is that my grandpa's there now and recently due to COVID they closed down all like National Park Service but they had to give my grandpa an exemption, which is awesome because the government recognized a Native person living at their Holy place. So my grandpa was given an exemption for camping at Oak Flat while everyone else had to pack their stuff and move. And also the mining is still going on but we're still trying to fight that."

"I learned a lot, actually, being with my grandpa there, even just being careful of the roads to learning more about our history and just thinking about how our people and our ancestors from a long time ago took these footsteps we did when they traveled back from Oak Flats to Mount Graham. I learned more about my religion of who I am and more about these dirty fights and these dirty politics and what these corporations are trying to do and trying to take our land for just minerals. I learned a lot."

Wendsler Nosie Sr.:

"Well, starting with the European world, I think they're the first to know the toxic that comes from all these corporations and what they have experienced. So in so many ways, you're really talking to those who experienced what we're going through as a country here. And I remember before I went overseas, my mother telling me that these people that are here came from there, so those people over there are the oldest one. So when you get there, tell them to tell these kids to behave. So that was really cute."

"It's not really what we've learned about them. It's really more advanced in the way colonization is and the devastation that comes from that. Here in America was, one of the things I say, well, it was an Apache fight here then it moved to the 22 tribes of Arizona. Then it moved to a state fight. Then it moved to the country's fight. And I've learned that by not only seeing our Native brothers and sisters but everybody in this country. And so, you know, to make it short and summarize it - I feel bad for all the different people because cities and towns are no different than reservations. They're just blinded from this colonization, this corporate way of life, they've been in it for hundreds of years, longer than we have. So I think the advantage that we have as Indian people is that we see that we can identify that and that's not what we want because it really breaks up the community. It breaks up the family values. You don't have that anymore, corporations force you to live that lifestyle."

"When I'm in DC speaking, I realized that I'm not just speaking for our children, I'm speaking for all children because of this colonization. And sometimes in talking to a lot of non-Indians, I find that they're more than ready to decolonize. They're more than ready because they lived that longer than we have. And they just need a good leader. They need a good leader to help them lead them out of that. My final overlook of the whole thing, when I go to Oak Flats, Mount Graham and I'm in these areas praying, I hold prayers for everybody. Cause it leads back to what my mother told me, she says, they always referred back to the Bible of all these stories in the Bible of incidents that took place. She said, they're never gonna come to the point that maybe a light shined to bring these people over here because of all the prosecutions that was happening in the other side of the world. So they came here but what they haven't accepted was that, we're supposed to be a part of the process to make this world better. From what is evil is not giving us that opportunity but we have to work for it because once it comes together then the cure will happen, the healing will happen and then around the world. So those are the principles that I put within what I do."

"Just recently they passed a resolution again, reinforcing their position, being an opponent to it and also working on the environmental issues, religious issues, how it's going to impact the state of Arizona. But again, it goes back to media, we don't have the outlets carrying these stories. It is gonna really identify all the leadership and their negligence on this issue in Arizona. But the tribe has made every effort. Of course, you're going to have Native people who sell out. It's normal and normal fact. And we did have that earlier with Resolution Copper when they were trying to divide the tribe and they were pouring in money just like they do anywhere else. And we're a suppressed reservation. So of course some of these people are going to take it but now today they're not even working with them. They're back with the tribe."

"I've learned to live with it. I learned to accept it and I've learned that you can overcome that just like it was in the past. And I just feel for these people. Those are the choices they have to make. I don't hate them because they're going to have to deal with that later in life. But it's just a way of life. It just makes the road more difficult but it's okay, as long as you have the faith and belief."

"We really caught up with the game. In other words, when they're doing all this dirty work, meaning Congress, meaning Resolution Copper, the telescope projects, they always seem to be two months ahead of us but when the social media began word was beginning to get up quicker and faster. You could use it for the right reason but you can also use it for the wrong reason but for the right reason, it's been effective to get out to Indian country because even though we may be doing good in these court cases, we can't rest because we got to remember that they can exempt at any time, they can do exemptions. All they have to do is apply it to the National to Defense bill, cause that's a must pass bill. So anything they put in that bill will pass and that's what they did in these two issues because there was no arguments. It even put pressure on Obama. When John McCain put in the national defense bill, Obama couldn't do nothing except sign it."

"Social media, the younger generation, is to teach them these things that are occurring. And this is what my granddaughter and I spend so much time talking about - not just the spirituality but how the process works. And then also Indian country, what we need to do, we need to be always riding our horse. We can't be off it because it's just the way the system is. But as long as somebody's like we're doing security, we're always checking the I's crossing the T's that we're monitoring the whole issue. And I hope that one day we really actually come together and speak really with one voice because that's where it's at today. You know, even though we may be different bands of Indian people, we really need to come together, really keep an eye on what's going on in Congress."Báásé Pike

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