From Oak Flat to Oakland, the fight to save all of our mountains on Turtle Island

by Tiny, Tiburcio, Cheyanne and Phillip Standing Bear

Apache Stronghold is on the march to prevent the sacred site of Oak Flat, Arizona, from becoming the site of the largest copper mine in North America.
Apache Stronghold is on the march to prevent the sacred site of Oak Flat, Arizona, from becoming the site of the largest copper mine in North America.

“If this act goes through, it will not just mean the privatization of Oak Flat but of all federal open land all across the U.S.,” said Duke Romero, Indigenous land warrior and member of the Apache Stronghold occupation at the sacred site of Oak Flat, Arizona, determined to save Mama Earth from more corporate destruction.

As Duke said, in December of 2014, Arizona politricksters tacked a “midnight rider” addendum called the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Act on to the National Defense Authorization Act. For 10 years, the Apaches had successfully stopped it, but this time it was sneaked into the huge defense bill and passed by Congress.

The bill, pushed by Arizona Reps. Gosar and Kirkpatrick and Arizona Sens. McCain and Flake, will enable a foreign mining company, Resolution Copper, to take over Oak Flat, a sacred site, and build the largest copper mine in North America – and it would effectively open up all federal land to corporate desecration.

When POOR Magazine’s Indigenous Peoples Media Project went on a humble journey to the part of Turtle Island the colonizers call Arizona and specifically to the sacred site called Oak Flat, our hearts were already heavy with the endless war on the poor and indigenous peoples of the Bay Area and all across America. And on the day we arrived, the news of the police murder of Loreal Juana Barnell-Tsingine in Winslow pushed us over the edge with sorrow. The war on the poor and our poor bodies of color never stops, never takes a day off, and yet now it seems, if it’s possible, it’s gotten worse.

As we walked through Miami, Arizona, which, like Superior, Arizona, is a settler-colonial town so small you could miss it, we could feel a sorrow-filled silence in the atmosphere. The grey air was heavy with people’s loss – economic, spiritual and physical. Following the American model, the settlers colonized this Apache land – read perpetrated mass genocide – on the First Peoples of the area, then enslaved, stole and worked them and the poorest white people along with them to death.

After they had destroyed everything and everybody, the 21st century colonizers such as mining giants Freeport-McMoRan and Rio Tinto proceeded with the rape of every shred of Mama Earth’s body. And then, like the corporate rapists they are, once there was nothing left to steal, take or profit off of, they abandoned her and her earth peoples for dead.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe camps at Oak Flat to protect the sacred site where Apaches have gone to pray for countless centuries and where coming of age ceremonies have traditionally been held. You can buy a Protect Oak Flat T-shirt with the beautiful artwork on the banner behind them by emailing apache.stronghold@gmail.com.
The San Carlos Apache Tribe camps at Oak Flat to protect the sacred site where Apaches have gone to pray for countless centuries and where coming of age ceremonies have traditionally been held. You can buy a Protect Oak Flat T-shirt with the beautiful artwork on the banner behind them by emailing apache.stronghold@gmail.com.

“They are even planning to take the whole road out and close off the access to very small towns like Top of the World if this goes through,” said Duke, telling the horror story of the proposed monster pile of mine “tailings,” 2,500 feet tall and 15 miles long, being proposed by Rio Tinto, a multinational corporation dredging, bleeding and destroying water, air and poor and indigenous people’s livable land all over Mama Earth in search of copper and other metals needed to power our electronics.

Mine tailings are the weird, sad moon-like mountains of waste produced when these corporations desecrate Mama Earth’s mountains for her resources. In many of the places we traveled, the quiet medicine-bringing mountain ranges of Arizona had been transformed into what resembled the surface of the moon. No life grows there, no green, no water, no color remains.

Duke told us that this proposed monster mine called Resolution will poison more water and air, adding to the pollution from the already existing multitude of mines. People will be forced to breathe even more of the arsenic, mercury and other dangerous chemicals from the mines during Arizona’s dust storms.

Add this to the insanity of nearby Flagstaff, Arizona, where the San Francisco Peaks sacred site and the nearby aquifers have been desecrated and poisoned with the fecal matter, hormones and pharmaceuticals in the wastewater used to make snow so people can mindlessly ski – and you have effectively poisoned most of the people in Arizona.

“Now that the mine is leaving town, we are looking for new things to bring into our economy,” reported the Indigenous peoples’ media project on the City Council meeting in Miami, Arizona, held the day after we spoke to Duke Romero. At the meeting, most of the townsfolk applauded the exciting news of the “new Resolution Mine,” which is purported to bring thousands of new jobs and revenue to town.

Indigenous land warriors and members of the Apache Stronghold occupation at the sacred site of Oak Flat, Arizona – Photo: Poor News Network
Indigenous land warriors and members of the Apache Stronghold occupation at the sacred site of Oak Flat, Arizona – Photo: Poor News Network

“People are excited by the jobs, but what they don’t know is most of the mine will be run by autonomous machinery. In other words, no humans will be needed to work the mines,” Duke told us. Corporate rapists usually try to promote their projects that destroy Mama Earth by citing the jobs that will be generated. This is the way they “sell” the people on the rape of their resources.

“This is not just an Apache issue but an everyone issue – all races, all people, mountain climbers, campers, nature lovers, everyone needs to come together to fight this Land Exchange Act,” Duke Romero concluded with ways folks can help – and help is urgently needed.

People in large urban areas rarely think about the way we are impacted by the poisoning of our mountains and deserts. Rarely discussed is how politrickster desecration moves like the Land Exchange Act will impact everyone.

Here in California, we have hundreds of “mineable” mountains. If this act becomes law, it will open up federal land from Yosemite to Yonkers, from Oak Flat to Oakland. From Apache Land to Los Angeles, who knows what these corporate rapists have in store. Saving Mama Earth from more desecration truly means saving us all.

What you can do

Duke explained that there are two current efforts to repeal the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Act in Congress right now – one known as the Save Oak Flat Act, sponsored by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva – and that all of us can help by writing to ask our Congress members to support repeal. Sending them letters by snail mail or phoning them is most effective, but email is better than nothing.

Save Oak Flat graphicYou can get contact information for any member of Congress at http://www.contactingthecongress.org/. Remember, it may not feel like they are listening, but they have to record all phone calls and snail mail.

You can also help by signing the petition to declare Oak Flat a national monument. Go to https://www.change.org/p/barack-obama-declare-oak-flats-a-national-monument.

For more information and updates, go to http://www.apache-stronghold.com/about.html.

Tiny, Tiburcio, Cheyanne and Phillip Standing Bear are activists and journalists with POOR Magazine and Poor News Network. They can be reached via deeandtiny@poormagazine.org. To learn more, visit www.poormagazine.org and www.racepovertymediajustice.org.