Above: Coleen Begay and Ida Mae Clark with their mother, Delores Clark from Seven Mile District, San Carlos Apache, joined Friday’s protest. Photo by The Apache Messenger.
From Oak Flats
Camping in the Oak Flats a few miles east of and high above Superior, Arizona is an experience of parallel cultures in the mountains. People are here and have been here for thousands of years. A new tragedy of culture clash is happening here.
This cool morning a group of small jeeps come suddenly from the highway to the center of the campground. They stop to turn on the four-wheel drives on their axels. They stand off and look bewildered by the signs that boldly proclaim “Save Oak Flats”, “Stop Rio Tinto”, and “Absolutely No Photos” around the Apache sacred prayer site. They, like the daily tour groups of ATVs, then roar their engines, raise some dust on the sandy campground roads and take the rugged road that climbs the rocks to the tops of the ridges and mountain that lead up to the mines. The road challenge is their adventure for the day. Other cultures are dealing with more serious and fundamental issues here.
The San Carlos Apache are attending their religious site behind the signs and barrier tape at Oak Flats. Some non-tribal supporters watch. The campground also swirls with campers passing through the Southwest, a wedding party, and hikers from the web of cities of the “Valley of the Sun”. Phoenix lies below the mountains in the Sonora Desert to the West. There is a deep meaning here for all but it appears that few other than the San Carlos Apache people understand what all of it is. It is only a partial explanation to consider that Oak Flats is a beautiful site containing ancient burial grounds and markings.
The San Carlos Apache Tribe is known for resistance and persistence of its culture. One discusses this tribe and may come to note the great Apache warrior Geronimo (Goyathley). It is a name much abused by the non-Indian culture. While Geronimo is somewhat known to the non-Indian culture, the most important great leaders of this people are a continuous ancient line of “Spiritual Leaders”. The San Carlos Apache people have experienced more than their share of outside persecution, war, poverty, murder, and isolation. It is their story to tell and I would like to think it is not also ours to tell, but it is. Here, now, one finds mainly a strong reverence evident among the prayer singers with their spiritual leaders. One can feel the drums beat for reason and peace.
Other “cultures” come through the mountains and Oak Flats. Most come, look and pass on. There are “sides” taken about the rich ore below but it is difficult to find or even imagine supporters of the destruction of Oak Flats. This tragedy is the covert act of a few in Congress to slip in a land-grab and false and imposed land trade on the Apache Tribe. Politicians buried it deep in the recent National Defense Authorization Act to avoid its major opposition and veto. The tragedy will progress if those who oppose it will be now be silent and inactive.
Even many of the long time miners of this area are adamantly opposed to the monstrous plan for the benefit of the two foreign corporations. They point out that the choice method of those corporate masters is to mine this public land using the most destructive alternative method. Less intrusive methods are well known and provide more jobs. The homes of the miners and others in the small towns that nestle in the canyons will also be severely affected by the loss of Oak Flats. There will also be new huge toxic waste tailings from the new mine extending many square miles in a fifty foot high pile. The collapse of the surface of old high desert land, ancient oak trees and sacred Native American land into the rubble of a huge pit is not necessary. It still can be stopped if Congress would make a small correction …or if protests and actions are necessary.
The bottom line is simply that the rape of the land by foreign corporations makes no sense. It thrives on confusion and greed. Politicians also thrive in the related financial lobby support and must be corrected.
Native Americans have come together in the face of another assault. They welcome support from others. The problem comes from within the structure of the United Sates, not sovereign Native American Nations. Recently the hint of occupation of the religious site has apparently started low flights of official airplanes buzzing the homes of the Tribe. The U.S. Forest Service has spied on the new events at Oak Flats but seems to be avoiding even consultation. A threat of eviction of the religious site has occurred and will possibly be faced in the coming few days.
Attempts at intimidation must not be allowed. A move backward in the United States history of relations with Native Americans must not occur. Sensible people must speak and act now.