Sacred land that had previously been protected was “swapped” by Arizona State Senators earlier this year. The land including and around Oak Flat campground, part of the Tonto National Forest, was given to Resolution Copper (an Australian and British mining company) by Arizona State Senators who covertly attached the resolution as a rider to the national defense spending bill in December 2014. This land was “swapped” for privately held land Resolution Copper had bought up in anticipation of this action. In the past, unable to pass a resolution to allow mining at Oak Flat by Congressional vote, AZ Senators went around the voices of the people who live there and by-passed the process altogether. With their voices taken away and betrayed yet again by the federal government, tribal members, community activists and religious leaders have committed to occupy the Oak Flat campground which sits on part of this sacred land and resist the copper mining company.
In my dreams, I am sliding backwards on this road. This road that weaves between stacked red rocks careening out of a rich desert floor. In my dreams, this road is steep, steeper than it is in real life. I know I must have driven down this road many times as a child, yet, the only recollection I have of being in this place is in my dreams.
I am driving to Oak Flat. I’m going to support the relationship between people and place. This is one of those journeys I take because my heart leads me there.
|Oak trees growing out of rolling tan colored soil|
Desert Oak trees emerge out of desert soil, gaining nourishment from the water that flows down from the mountains which surround this place. A water flow that will be forever changed if mining companies come in to snatch out tons of earth below our feet. All for a deposit of copper that lies beneath the surface of this once protected land.
The people in relationship with this land, the San Carlos Apache tribe and other tribes in the area, who use it for spiritual purposes, who live in relationship with this place, are pushing back. They are occupying Oak Flat in protest.
I am sitting in the Oak Flat campground listening to speakers share essential wisdom about the sacredness of the area. Speakers talk about the beauty and importance of this place. Not in how it is used, but in how we are in relationship with it.
|Stone mountain ridge|
All of earth is sacred land, one speaker reminds us. She shares what her father told her, that there is a relationship between the earth and the moon. It is the minerals within the earth which keeps this relationship alive, the cycles continuing.
Another speaker talks of why we value nature. We value nature not because it is “traditional”, or for some higher spiritual purpose, but because it is real. Our relationship with nature is as real as it gets. As a surface dweller it is the realist of realities.
|Sign - Save Oak Flat Our Land|
We are grieving this violation to nature, to us, through music and spiritual expression in community. We are celebrating resistance to a procedure that went around the voices of the people who live here. “Our words are our prayers,” the woman says as she closes the circle of sharing.
Evening comes and the air grows cold. On the way home, we drive through Florence. I look out at rows of concrete buildings, massive entities swaddled in fences, guard towers and barbed wire. These massive prisons remind me that our society does understand the power of relationship. In the name of punishment, we break the relationships people have with those they love, we control the relationship of people to nature and to themselves. It is part of what makes prison so cruel.
It’s the next morning and I am sitting here trying to write about a fight for justice, for this land that I too love. For those of us who live in the city, it is hard sometimes to remember the value in being with nature. I look at the ways that I participate in plucking things from mother earth with my consumerism. I wonder about the people’s relationship to the land from which my stuff comes from. It is a good reminder, as many elders tell us, to live simply, so that others can simply live.
Relationship is complicated, it is messy, and we each embody the unresolved silence of our reality as surface dwellers in conflict with nature as something we use. But this silence doesn’t need to break us. Our words are our prayers.
|Author's face in sun and shadow|
Oak Flat is a place where I am allowed to be who I am, where I am. It is about listening to a land which gives so many gifts of wisdom and learning. I support the resistance because I am a surface dweller and this is my reality.
Please join me.
To donate to the resistance, go to:
To sign a petition to repeal the Oak Flat Land Exchange:
To sign a petition asking President Obama to save Oak Flat from copper mining by giving it national monument status, go to:
For updates on the occupation, visit:
|Budding tree in front of desert trees. Mountain rises in background.|