Apache Stronghold Spiritual Convoy to the 9th District Court, Pasadena March 21, 2023
A reflection by Sharon Monday, Repair Network Representative from First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana
“Stay Prayerful, Stay Peaceful, Stay Positive.”
These are the words of Dr. Wendsler Nosie, Sr., founder and spiritual leader of the Apache-Stronghold and former Chairman and Councilman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe as we prepare to enter the courthouse.
“We are here to listen and to bear witness.”
The rain is pouring down on us as we stand in Defender’s Park, one block from the Courthouse. We are reminded today the rain is a blessing and a witness. The rain brings us together as we huddle close and look out for each other including the infants, young children, teenagers, women, families and elders who have come to defend the sacred holy site of the Apache Nation, Chi’ Chil Bildagoteel known as Oak Flat. Oak Flat is located about an hour east of Phoenix and part of the Tonto National Forest. We pray with sage smudging, words, song and with our feet and bodies as we dance gently on the soggy grass and circle the four directions. We know the support of the ancestors and prayers from many people of faith throughout the country and world encircle all of us gathered here today.
“The path to decolonize is spiritual work.”
We are soaked and shivering yet warm in heart and community spirit as we listen to defending attorney, Luke Goodrich, Vice President and Senior Counsel of Becket Law, formerly the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty present his opening remarks to the 11 federal judges who are rehearing the Apache Stronghold v United States case today. Sitting beside me are Luke Goodrich’s two young daughters, Salome and Zoe, who have traveled from Florida to learn how capitalism and a colonial mindset disconnects us from who we are. Motivations based on profit and greed twist and distort to make it appear perfectly reasonable for the U.S government to transfer 2,500 acres of protected lands to a foreign mining company, Resolution Copper. These lands are the sacred site since time immemorial where the Apache people connect to Creator in prayer, collect water and medicinal plants for ceremonies, gather acorns and other foods and honor the dead buried here. The mining operation would permanently destroy this holy land with a two-mile-wide and 1,100-foot-deep crater rendering the land unusable for Apache religious practices and ceremonies.
“Is this transfer of land a substantial burden to the religious practices of the Apache people?”
The judges repeatedly interrupt defending attorney, Luke Goodrich, with questions that minimize and distract from the larger issue that is on trial: a settler nation which continues to deny the harm done by land theft from the Native peoples and to take responsibility for healing, restoration and right relationships with the Native peoples and their sacred lands.
“Oak Flat is holy and sacred. To destroy our lands is to destroy our identity. Our spiritual practices are held and connected to the land rather than in a building with walls.”
These words reverberate in me as the court case continues. My heart and mind are telling me that white settler colonialism is on trial. Will we as a nation continue to conquer, mine and destroy the Earth or will we defend the Earth and all creation for future generations to thrive? What is our sacred commitment to the land and all creation?
A decision by the court will not likely be made until later this summer. In the meantime, an Environmental Impact Statement is due any day from the National Forest Service. The land transfer would be set in motion 60 days from the date of its release. We need to be alert and prepared to respond to calls to prayer and action from Apache Stronghold.
What is my decision as a person of faith? How will I, my church community of First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana, and members of the Congregational Repair Network work together to honor the land and form right relationships with Native peoples and the Earth?
We the People, the Native people who are here from the Southwest, the Northwest, the Midwest and the East, (including members of the Lummi Nation from the Pacific Northwest who completed a 30-day coastal caravan with a 25’ totem pole they prepared to place in front of the Pasadena courthouse), from the Mennonite Repair Network of the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery, the Poor People’s Campaign, and other faith communities gather after the trial at Defender’s Park. The rain has stopped and the sun is shining. We pray, we embrace, we share a meal and are reminded to let the elders go first. Before, during and after the court hearing, the elders share stories of ancestral wisdom and identity; the elders understand this is an important time to communicate with the younger generation and the white allies about Indigenous culture and connection. Wendsler Nosie, Sr., his spouse, their adult daughters and a young granddaughter bless us before we disperse with these words:
“Continue to pray, be peacemakers and be positive.”
“Our battle is a spiritual battle for all of humanity and the Earth.”
“One prayer, one drum, one circle.”
For study and solidarity:
Follow Apache Stronghold on social media @saveoakflatarizona