One of the sacred staffs carried by the Apache activists. This staff is not to enter a vehicle and is to be carried the entire way to Oak Flat. (Photo: Roger Hill)
In the "Copper Triangle" of Arizona, the Apache are fighting to protect their sacred land from mining giant Rio Tinto and Arizona Republicans. One major concern among the Apache community is that mining could contaminate the reservation's aquifer.
In the parking lot of the grocery store on the reservation, we are introduced to Standing Fox, a local painter, hip-hop artist and activist amongst the Chiricahua Apache tribe, descendants of the warrior tribe who rode with Geronimo during the Apache Wars (1849-1906). They were the last tribe to fight against US military expansion in the United States.
My co-pilot, David, and I have traveled to Arizona from San Francisco to produce a short documentary. We decided to make the journey after noticing a provision - a congressional rider on the "must pass" National Defense Authorization Act - in which sacred Apache land would be quietly appropriated for a foreign mining interest. The use of a rider is a controversial legislative procedure in which provisions, unlikely to pass on their own, are added to a bill that has little to do with the rider. The provision, buried on page 1,103, was added largely thanks to the efforts of Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) to the 1,648-page defense bill. The Oak Flat rider appeared on the bill little more than two days before voting was scheduled in Congress.
The land exchange violates a 1955 executive order by President Eisenhower that explicitly puts the Oak Flat Campground land off limits to future mining activity.
In Arizona, we are meeting with Vansler "Standing Fox" Nosie, Tribal Councilman Wendsler Nosie Sr. and Anthony Logan, also known as Rolling Fox, one of the tribe's elder religious leaders. They represent part of the core group of Apache who are planning a 45-mile walk to their sacred Oak Flat, where they will stay in protest of the land grab.