What prayer does when Oak Flat is under fire

Reflection July 2021 by Carol Rose

There are many ways sacred land can be under fire.  For many years Chich’il Bildagoteel, sacred land also known as Oak Flat, has been threatened with destruction by being hollowed out and collapsed by a copper mine.  This season the threat of fire has also been literal. 

The first week of June 2021 the “telegraph fire” raged up Apache Leap and crested the ridge to the west of Oak Flat.  Fire fighters told Wendsler Nosie that the fire storm was so fierce that they expected it to wipe Oak Flat out.   The fire quickly raged down the slope towards an area where creation lines up in an ancient pictograph and marches across red stone, all living beings, including humans, headed somewhere together.  

Then the fire turned and went out, though the area is rich with vegetation.  One of the fire fighter said that there are now 80 firefighters who believe from experience that Oak Flat is sacred. They have no other explanation for what happened.  There are other areas that were damaged, but most of Oak Flat is inexplicably unsinged.  The ancient oaks in the campground are alive and well rooted deep into the underground flow of water and covered with acorns.

When we pray, we put the power God has imbued us with from creation and through our life partnering with God’s sacred struggle at God’s disposal. There are times when what we long for does not come about, in the short run.  The physical and political powers allied with evil have their way for the day. 

When we pray we join power entrusted to us into God’s hands as allies together with the angels/the spirits of the land.  There are times when what is holy is protected.  The fire stops and turns. Life has its way.  Those days are a foretaste of where all creation is going, together. 

Background/Update: For more than a year the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition has been backing the Apache Stronghold to protect Chich’il Bildagoteel, sacred land also known as Oak Flat.  We have been part of organizing prayer and action both on line and in person at Oak Flat and in Tucson.  We have brought other Anabaptist related groups into this movement including Prayer StreamMennonite Creation Care Network and CPT.   Congregations and individuals have joined in prayer and in the call for the U.S. government to repeal the land swap that threatens Oak Flat (the Save Oak Flat Act), to honor religious freedom and the integrity of creation.   

In March 2021 we celebrated a huge, though temporary, victory when the US Department of Agriculture withdrew the Environmental Impact Statement that the previous administration had rushed through.  This victory came the week following an intertribal prayer run and annual gathering at Oak Flat.

Since then there have been more gatherings in person and online.  Apache Stronghold is back home from a recent time advocating in person with congress in DC. The house may consider the Act as soon as later this month if we continue to successfully gather co-sponsors. There is an interfaith gathering being planned soon in Washington DC.  Stay tuned!

The Apache Stronghold continues to lead the struggle.  We are grateful to be welcomed into it. 

Next steps:

  • Keep praying for Oak Flat and for those struggling to defend it.
  • Learn and share.  We recommend the recent 8 minute film The sacred Battle for Oak Flat and many other resources shared by the Apache Stronghold.
  • Put spiritual and political pressure on the US Senate and House to pass the Save Oak Flat Act
    • Have your people in congress co-sponsored yet?  Thank them, or persistently invite them to do so! (find lists of co-sponsors at HR 1884 and S-915)
    • Pray for the Arizona Senators as their support will set free other senators.  Particularly pray for and invite Arizona Senator Mark Kelly to cosponsor even if you are not his constituent.  Loop everyone you know in Arizona into the effort!)

Check out this video for images of the sacred Ga’an Canyon at Oak Flat: