In Los Angeles, Spiritual Convoy Urges Unity to Preserve Apache Sacred Site Oak Flat

Mati Waiya, founder and executive director of the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, led a ceremonial circle on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Malibu, California. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina

MALIBU, Calif. (RNS) — To Apache Stronghold founder Wendsler Nosie, Sr., it's going to take just about a miracle to win their case to preserve the Apache sacred site in Arizona known as Oak Flat, given how "deceitful" he said it was for Congress to authorize the transfer of the land to Resolution Copper, a company owned by the British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto.

"When I say that we're going to need a miracle, it means that the judges are going to sit there and have to make a moral decision — what they really mean when it comes to the Constitution, when they say freedom of religion, freedom of speech," Nosie told Religion News Service on Sunday.

Nosie along with his family and members of Apache Stronghold — a coalition of Apaches, other Native peoples and non-Native supporters seeking to preserve Oak Flat — gathered Sunday at the Wishtoyo Chumash Village in Malibu in Los Angeles County. Leaders, elders and representatives from the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, the Gabrielino Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe and others offered prayers and blessings for protection of Oak Flat and for the Apache Stronghold.




Apache Stronghold, a coalition of Apaches, other Native peoples and non-Native supporters seeking to preserve Oak Flat, arrives at Wishtoyo Chumash Village to begin a ceremonial circle, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in in Malibu, California. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina.

The gathering was one stop on a spiritual convoy to San Francisco, where a court on Oct. 22 will hear an appeal the group has filed to keep the land from being transferred.

The group began its trek in Arizona, meeting with Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, and members of the Native American club at Brophy College Preparatory, a Jesuit high school in Phoenix that participated in a protest run earlier this year in support of Oak Flat. The group also met with the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community near Phoenix.

Next, they'll gather for a vigil at the U.S. Federal Building and at the Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, offering prayers and songs for a positive outcome in the case that Nosie, his family and supporters often refer to as a "spiritual" and "holy war."  

"Growing up we were taught that spirituality is first. Everything we've ever done as a people is prayer first ... We were told it wasn't going to be easy because the oldest fight is our religion," said Nosie's daughter, Vanessa.

"The only way we're going to win is through spirituality," she said.

Leaders stressed unity among the different tribes and communities represented on Sunday, with Mati Waiya, founder and executive director of the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, leading a ceremony, saying, "We have to stop this nonsense of separating ourselves.

"It's an honor to receive our brothers and sisters and to be able to help them on their journey to the ninth circuit so that we can be heard," Waiya said.

Oak Flat, known in Apache as Chi'chil Biłdagoteel, is a 6.7-square-mile stretch of land east of Phoenix that falls within Tonto National Forest.

The Apache people hold a number of important ceremonies at Oak Flat that, according to their court filings, can take place only on the site, which would be destroyed by mining. The Apache believe Oak Flat is a "blessed place" where Ga'an — guardians or messengers between the people and Usen, the creator — dwell.

Congress approved the transfer of the land to Resolution Copper in 2014 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in exchange for 6,000 acres elsewhere.

In a statement, a Resolution Copper spokesperson said it "continues to consult and partner with local communities and Native American Tribes to guide further shaping of the Resolution Copper project and the significant benefits it will deliver."

"Resolution Copper is an important part of the region's economic future and the entire country's clean energy transition," the spokesperson said.
Apache Stronghold, which is receiving legal help from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, filed a federal lawsuit to stop the land swap, arguing that destruction of Oak Flat would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  

Nosie, former chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, has spoken about the importance of different Native groups banding and praying together to combat evil, which in this case, he said, is the capitalism embodied by Resolution Copper.

On a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, participants on Sunday gathered in a ceremonial circle, leaving offerings and sharing with Nosie and his family why they felt connected to Oak Flat.

A woman offered an Islamic prayer, and Carla Munoz, tribal councilwoman of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe, sang a song in the Rumsen Ohlone language about the nourishment and gathering of acorns. Luis J. Rodríguez, author of "Always Running," shared about his mother's Tarahumura ties and about reconnecting with Indigenous practices. 

Shannon Rivers, a member of the Akimel O'otham, offered an apology to the Nosie family during the ceremony for the colonization that he said "has pitted tribes against one another."

"Generations ago, we were asked to fight against the Apaches and control that area," he said. "As an O'otham person who follows tradition, it is important that we stand near them for the fight against ongoing colonization, ongoing violence against Mother Earth," he said.

Mariza S. Sullivan, tribal chair for the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, said she was there Sunday because "I have a shared history."

"We consider the land sacred. We can also have that same commonality with other religions and how they choose to worship and how that might be taken away from them. It can happen to anybody," Sullivan said.

"To be able to worship what and where and to not actually witness the destruction of it, is common for all of us," she added.

To Josh Andujo, tribal member of Gabrielino Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, "what's going on in Oak Flat is going to be an awakening for other Natives to challenge the government over religious freedom."

"I think for religious people, they're used to going to buildings to worship their religion. I don't think they understand our ways of life, but it's good to show that we didn't have buildings to worship. We were out here. This is our church," said Andujo, who is also Apache from his father's side.
 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

The U.S. Supreme Court justices heard arguments this week in a closely watched case that some predict could again change the course of abortion law.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, joined in lighting the menorah. Emhoff is the first Jewish spouse of an American vice president.
Bhattar created an art piece to honor all those that choose to love themselves and work to collectively dismantle our culture of shame around HIV/AIDS, especially in higher education and religious/spiritual communities. 
The authors write that they learned many wonderful things growing up in Southern Evangelical churches, "such as centering Christ and serving others." But in conversations around sexuality and HIV/AIDS, "We were also taught things we now know are tremendously grounded in hate and fear."
As we open the application for the 2022 cohort of IFYC alumni Interfaith Innovation fellows, we speak with 2021 fellow Pritpal Kaur, the former Education Director at the Sikh Coalition and an advocate for increasing religious literacy in the classroom.
Greg McMichael, son Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were all convicted Wednesday (Nov. 24) of murder after jurors deliberated for about 10 hours.
A new book, “Praying to the West: How Muslims Shaped the Americas,” by Omar Mouallem, may meet the needs of a new generation of Muslims.
For Christians, Advent is a period of preparation for Christmas and beyond. The Rev. Thomas J. Reese writes that perhaps fasting during Advent can be the Christian response to the consumerism of the season.
Interfaith holiday events can be a great way to show respect for others and make everyone feel included. Need some tips? Our IFYC colleagues have you covered.
Studies show that American religious diversity will only continue to grow and that Thanksgiving dinners of the future will continue to reflect this “potluck nation.” We all bring something special to the table.
IFYC staff members share what they're listening to, watching and reading that inspires an attitude for gratitude this season.
How can you support Native Americans and understand important issues and terminology? This Baylor University sophomore is here to help.
Aided by an international team of artists, author Salma Hasan Ali turned her viral blog about Ramadan into a new handmade book.
A symposium hosted by the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago focused on the intersection of Indian boarding schools and theological education as well as efforts to uncover truth and bring healing.
This week's top 10 includes stories on faith and meatpacking in the Midwest, religion in the metaverse and an interfaith call for peace in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The two lawmakers appeared at "Race, Religion and the Assault on Voting Rights," the inaugural event at Georgetown University's Center on Faith and Justice.
Religion & Politics journal interviews the author of a new book on the impact of growing religious diversity in the American Midwest.
Five interfaith leaders share readings and resources that inspire them, give them hope and offer solace in turbulent times.
“There is a huge gap between the religiosity of clinicians and the religiosity of the clients,” mental health counselor Shivam Gosai says. “This gap has always been there. Mental health professionals are not always reflective of the people we are serving.”
Part of what I found so beautiful about our conversation is that we both agree that American pluralism is not simply a pragmatic solution to the challenge of a diverse democracy, it is also a kind of sacred trust that God intends us to steward.
The author, a Hindu and a Sikh, notes that faith plays a subtle yet powerful role in the show -- and creates space for more dialogue.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.