Above: The author, Kelsey Erickson sits betweem fellow fasters Noel Benoist (left) and James Ybarra (right).
The 18-day Fast to Save Oak Flat was inspired by the Fast for No New Permits outside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, DC.
Activist’s Seek to Stop Extraction of Copper from Apache Nation’s Sacred Lands
Three people have been occupying and fasting at Oak Flat in protest of the land exchange bill that Senator McCain attached to a must-pass military appropriations bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. This bill essentially gave Oak Flat away to one of the largest copper mining corporations in the world, Resolution Copper. This absurdity of this land exchange is not only evident in the fact that Oak Flat is part of federally protected Tonto National Forest, but also in the fact that it denies rights of the Apache Nation to practice cultural traditions at this sacred site.
“John McCain and his group of marauding pirates have been stabbing the original people of these lands in the back. While claiming to be a friend, he has orchestrated and participated in the theft of the wealth of the land and of the land itself” says Noel Benoist who just completed his ninth day of fasting.
Though the land exchange bill was passed, the Apache-Stronghold is determined to keep the mining megacorporation off their sacred land. They plan to occupy the Oak Flat campground indefinitely to ensure it’s protection. In addition to the occupation, a subset of their group journeyed across the country to deliver their message to the nation’s capitol. On their way there, they stayed at reservations to connect with other tribes. When they arrived in Washington, D.C. they marched from Rock Creek Park to the Capitol Lawn where they held a riveting rally the following day. They’ve also been working alongside Representative Raul Grijalva of Tucson, AZ to pass the Save Oak Flat Act, which would repeal the land exchange. They are calling on people across the country to call their representatives and ask them to co-sponsor this bill.
Not only does the land exchange bill violate the rights of the Apache Nation to practice cultural traditions at Oak Flat, but it would obliterate the area and pose serious health risks to local people. The process that Resolution Copper intends to use, known as block caving, would involve blasting vast amounts of substrate 7,000 ft beneath the surface. The resulting underground void would cause the substrate above it to collapse into a crater 2.5 miles in diameter. The crater itself would expose hazardous heavy metals, including Uranium, which would also be present in tailings or waste piles that would be dumped in the town to the east of Oak Flat. “There is a direct correlation between cancer, mining and the tailings left behind. I would ask everyone ‘How many people would you murder for a job?’ How many jobs is saving one life worth? These operations are killing people they have promised jobs to that will not come; every mining town that grew for awhile died in the end” Benoist states.
The 18-day Fast to Save Oak Flat was inspired by the Fast for No New Permits outside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in Washington, DC. This FERC fast was organized by the organization, Beyond Extreme Energy, whose goal is to cease issuance of permits for natural gas infrastructure. The significance of a concurrent fast at Oak Flat is to unify a movement to demand an end to all forms of extreme extraction whether it be for fossil fuels or precious metals and to protect frontline communities of all regions.”I consider this to be one struggle that is part of many fronts” says faster James Ybarra. “I am fasting because I believe that every sacred site, every home deserves to be treated with the same reverence.”