Members of the Apache tribe in Times Square, New York, on Friday. Photograph: Avaaz
Members of the Apache tribe stood chanting in a circle with drums and posters in the center of New York’s Times Square on Friday, to protest against a bill that will hand over land they hold sacred to a foreign mining corporation.
Times Square was the latest stop for activists from the Apache tribe who are travelling across the United States to battle for Oak Flat and to draw attention to a bill introduced by Arizona representative Raúl M Grijalva to repeal the decision to hand the land over to Resolution Copper.
A fine-print rider was added to December’s National Defense Authorization Act that gave the title of Oak Flat to Resolution Copper Mining, co-owned by multinational mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.
The company claims they will create 3,700 jobs over the next few decades and while some dispute that number, the Apache tribe has other concerns.
Wendsler Nosie, the councilman leading Apache Stronghold, said Oak Flat is “a central part of our religion, our ceremonies, our upbringing for our children”. To those who observe the Bible, it is the equivalent, he said, of Mount Sinai, the mountain where God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses.
“It’s like Mount Sinai. Tell the people who believe the Bible that,” Nosie said. “What would they say? It’s no different. Why do we treat it different?”
Oak Flat is possibly the first sacred Native American land to be given to a foreign corporation in US history, said Aften Meltzer, media consultant for Avaaz, an online democracy network.
The Apache Stronghold is trying to garner as much public support as possible during their travels. Their petition on Avaaz.org made out to members of the US Congress and the interior secretary, Sally Jewell, already has about 78,000 signatures.
“If you educate the people and tell them what happened here in Washington and every American takes part and notifies their congressional leader that this was wrong and they ask the congressional leader to support a repeal then there is a chance that this can be repealed,” Nosie said. “I know it’s a long shot but this is wrong.”
He has become increasingly optimistic that the Save Oak Flat Act will pass as their group has travelled since 5 July from Sacred Mt Graham, Arizona, to Washington DC. Their stops include meetings with indigenous advocates across the midwest, a Baptist church in North Carolina and a Neil Young concert in Denver. They will arrive in Washington on Tuesday and “talk to congressional leaders and agencies that are there”, said Nosie.
But despite the success, he says he has found the trip to be very emotional thus far.
“Just seeing all these kids and mothers that are pregnant that came up to the ceremonies to meet us and knowing that their children are going to be born and they will have no rights and religious rights on their reservation … to see that was really detrimental to me,” he said. “All I could do was cry when listening to my relatives, my native people.”
He added: “But the other side of the token was there are so many Americans, non-native people, who have come out and asked many questions. The numbers we’ve been meeting since travelling has just grown and grown and grown.”