November 4 was a day of Prayer Rising for Oak Flat, where we were invited by Apache Stronghold to participate in a time of prayer for renewed relationship with Mother Earth and to join our Indigenous siblings in the work of protecting sacred sites like Oak Flat. Now that we have been invited into the Circle, what is our response?
Consider these questions:
- What did the November 4 prayer rising mean to you?
- How do you relate the sacredness of Oak Flat to sacred land in your community?
- Where/how do you see the messages from Nov. 4 connecting with your own spiritual tradition?
- How are you going to answer the call from our Indigenous siblings on Nov. 4 to be truth tellers and land protectors?
- How does the fight for Oak Flat, the fight for life, connect to the conflicts we are seeing throughout the world today?
- Who will you share what you learned on Nov. 4 with?
Take some time to reflect and share your thoughts with us by submitting your reflections in the form below. Responses will be published on this webpage.
The Prayer Rising event held at Chi'chil Bildagoteel (Oak Flat) on November 4 2023 gathered over 150 people from many walks of life. We joined together in unity to send prayers to protect
this sacred land.
One of the ways we prayed was a prayer walk to the road to the current mine. In a ceremony of repentance and cleansing we crossed the road with ashes. We then returned to write prayers on ribbons of multiple shades of the blues of water and sky, and to soak them with holy water gathered from the sacred spring on Mount Graham, a deeply connected sacred site.
The next morning a smaller group walked up the hill to near the entrance of the mine that threatens to destroy this sacred land, and tied ribbons to the bushes nearby. Residual feelings of hope, mutual respect for the land and water, of camaraderie with new
friends were interrupted that night after sunset.
Looking up toward the mine I saw looming above us at the mine site a configuration of the lights of the mine that I had never seen before: an unmistakable cross glared down at us.
Although I grew up with the cross as a symbol of love, for God, for humanity, and for creation, it has also been used as a symbol of hatred and violence. This cross did not convey a loving
blessing. This cross was a direct response to Indigenous people and settlers who had gathered to raise prayers and of the ribboned prayers that still hung fluttering around at the entrance of the mine.
The huge fiery-looking cross on that hill made me call to mind the many people that have suffered and been terrorized by that same symbol. There is nothing new in disrespect, nor in
turning a sacred symbol into a calling card of evil. Dehumanization of “the other,” has had disastrous results throughout history. It continues to the present, again taking the shape of a
cross and the plan to desecrate this land, and contaminate air and water. It is a blasphemy against all that is good.
Seeing that cross recalls me to the work that I still have to do. Many people are ignorant of Christ's message of loving our neighbor and of the impact of such hateful displays of disrespect. And still, being a participant of Prayer Rising and an accompanying presence with Apache
Stronghold are powerful reminders that bigotry, hatred, and violence do not have the last word.
As sure as the sun breaks through in the morning after a night of falling rain, there is hope, there is goodness, and together we will find a way. Hand in hand together with Apache Stronghold, we see and work for beauty in the world.
No events were planned in my area so I signed up for the 10-11 AM prayer coverage shift.
I chose to spend this time by the sacred fire at Camp Morgan, a MMIWG2S+ awareness camp on re-occupied Anishinaabe Lands just south of so-called Winnipeg. I'd done the same thing in March when we were gathered to pray over the Supreme Court hearings & the camp has grown quite a bit since then.
I had sage, tobacco & sweetgrass on hand. We're blessed to have cedar trees right outside our door so I harvested some in the early morning light.
My wife & I'd intended to pick up coffee for the warriors defend & maintain the camp but we we're running too late to allow for that. Rushed out there & arrived just before 10 AM, parking right behind a car who'd also just arrived. Didn't stop to talk to the other visitor though, I grabbed my medicines & rushed off to be sure I'd get to the fire by 10.
The camp was empty which puzzled me. There were some strong embers so I set to work, nourishing the fire so it could do its work until the fire keeper returned. I heard my wife & the other visitor approaching, an elder who was travelling home from a conference in the East. They came into the circle & the elder joined in the work, chopping wood into kindling while I huffed & puffed.
Once I thought the fire was going strong I stopped & we introduced ourselves. Not strong enough though, "Throw it all in. Everything I chopped.", said the elder. Once it was strong enough for his liking he asked why we my wife & were here. He smiled when we told him about the struggle to save Oak Flat & the 24 hour prayer coverage.
"Ok, do what you're here to do" he said. When it came time to offer the medicines I needed both my hands so I put my eagle feather on the ground. He interrupted at that point, with gentle gracious teaching I hold dear. I rested the feather on my hat instead, & continued while he offered berries to the four directions and then to the fire.
When we were both done he unwrapped his bundle & held a pipe ceremony, then shared about what had brought him there at the moment. Years ago, while Morgan was still alive, he had received a vision of 26 missing women who needed to be searched for. At the time he was not able to help, and today he stopped by Camp Morgan to apologize and make that right.
That he was sent there, and that he arrived at that moment gives me hope. Creator cares about Oak Flat, about MMIWGSW+, and the justice we long for deeply. I used to think things like this were supernatural but I've come to believe this is the most natural thing of all. This is creation being itself.
Thanks for reading.
The November 4 Prayer rising was a beautiful reminder for me that there is only one God, one circle, one drum, one prayer. As a white settler, I am responsible to bring this message to others - and the message of caring for Mother Earth.
As white settlers, we owe reparations to the indigenous care takers of the land and reparations to Mother Earth. We must do all we can to protect Oak Flat from mining!
The blue ribbons of prayer written with love and reverence and tied to the gate left a lasting impression for me. We must all be truth tellers and land protectors in our communities and around the world. It has become clear to me the strong connections between the struggle for indigenous land and religious freedom rights at sacred Oak Flat and indigenous land rights and freedom in Palestine.
I was hundreds of miles away, didn’t join a gathering but did pray on my own for several hours as I had promised. I must say that the sense of prayerful unity was quite distinct. This experience was a powerful reminder that love is a strong spiritual force and together we are growing into the kind of humans that God wants on the planet. Ultimately the forces for justice will prevail.
I traveled with a group of six others from Pasadena Mennonite Church near Los Angeles to the Nov. 4 "Prayer Rising" event over the weekend hosted by Apache Stronghold, an Indigenous group resisting the destruction of their sacred site, Oak Flat by Resolution Copper, a copper mining company that was given the public land by Congress in 2014 in a land swap deal.
The event was a powerful time of sharing prayers, testimonies and songs together. It became clear that Apache Stronghold sees themselves as protecting Oak Flat not only for Apache and other Indigenous peoples, but also for the rest of creation, including those of us who are Christians and those of us of European descent.
We were challenged to join this struggle in a deeper way for our own survival and that of future generations, in a spirit of humility and repentance. There is a place for us in the struggle, following Apache leadership. We had the opportunity to respond and pray for those of us who are Christians the next day on Sunday morning, with the blessing of Wendsler Nosie.
On Sunday morning, we joined a prayer walk with a group of other Christians and activists up to the gates of the mining company. We saw that the company has set up mining infrastructure on the site of an old silver mine on private land, and we heard that they are already engaged in a process of “de-watering” in preparation for mining, which means they are literally sucking the water out of the aquifer. This is water that all life in that precious desert ecosystem depends upon for survival.
At night, the company sometimes lights up a giant cross visible where we camped with Apache Stronghold, a strong visual reminder of the intertwining of Christian supremacy over the land and the economic powers and principalities ready to take what they want at any cost.
On Sunday when we walked to the gates of the mine, we hiked up a steep road in silence through beautiful desert terrain scattered with red boulders and canyons dotted with the green of manzanita, oak trees, and different kinds of cacti. Butterflies flitted in and out of our path, and we heard the conversations of birds around us. Two private security trucks roared past us up the hill, no doubt informed of our presence and wary of potential resistance.
We traded turns walking at the front of the group, carrying a banner with a hummingbird that said "sacred land" and praying for protection for the land, for Apache relatives, and for all the life around us that would be impacted by the water pollution and devastation of this mine.
I realized that the two miles we hiked is about the length of the mile-deep crater that would form at Oak Flat if the mine is approved. All of what I saw on that hike could be swallowed up in a hot and hellish pit. When I took my turn at the front, I felt a sense of almost physical pushback from the Powers and Principalities, like the air was almost thicker around me. I found myself calling out silently for the power of Jesus’ resurrection to be in us, with us, and the land in the face of the violence at hand.
Once we arrived at the gates of the mining company, we broke silence with shared song and spoken prayer for the transformation of Resolution Copper, and for all of us who are bound up in these economic systems of greed, as we all are. It was a powerful and emotional experience for me as we tied blue ribbons with prayers written on them to the trees around the company gates. The day before, these ribbons had been dipped in holy water from a spring at one of the Apache sites.
As they fluttered in the wind, I realized that even though our action felt so small, it was a taste of resurrection hope for me, and a confrontation with the powers and principalities that obstruct Creator’s movement to renew the face of the earth.
- Katerian Gea (Pastor, Pasadena Mennonite Church)
On November 4, I joined over a hundred others in solidarity with the Apache Stronghold at Oak Flat, a couple of hours east of Phoenix. Apache spiritual leader Dr. Wendsler Nosie and other Indigenous leaders led an Oak Flat Prayer Rising celebration of Mother Earth.
Dr. Nosie reminded us that we are all Indigenous because each of us comes from people whose ancestral home is somewhere on God's sacred earth. His word rings true: "This moment will reveal our spiritual commitment in saving our holy and sacred sites. Save Oak Flat!"
We came to Oak Flat in solidarity with Apache Stronghold people seeking to prevent Resolution Copper from exploiting Mother Earth and extracting copper ore for profit. It was a profoundly moving and spiritually formative day inspiring us to dismantle destructive settler colonial habits of exploitation, extraction, domination, oppression upheld by war. Community Peacemaker Teams and the Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery collaborated with Apache people for this Oak Flat Prayer Rising celebration and provide an ongoing presence.
Dr. Nosie and other Indigenous people led Oak Flat Prayer Rising ceremony.
This is a portion of a prayer that my friend Rich Sisco (also a retired Mennonite pastor) and I prayed in the Oak Flat ceremony: Creator of Mother Earth and the universe....We acclaim creation as your original Sacred Word....We come today in solidarity with Apache people in this precarious time when mining seeks to ravage Mother Earth to extract copper to feed insatiable appetites for profit and products....Not only are we here to help save Oak Flat, but Oak Flat is here to save us....from a long history of white colonial settler domination over people whose lives are rooted in this living land.
Thank you jeweled night
star dome keeping me safe
Sister moon watching over me.
This dark, dark night
that lulled and rocked me to sleep
with cricket songs
and coyote clan yips.
I greet you morning
as light creeps and grows along
the eastern ridge.
I bow in thanksgiving
for being carried
in the womb of the world
for a time.
I arise before
the orb of light breaks
and offers his cheerful
brisk call to the day.
Even as my tears have watered your earth
for the ruining of your body, Mother,
dewatering your veins
stripping back of your skin
the raping and gouging out
of your belly for minerals.
Even under the shadow
of this epidemic of fevered mining
I felt for one night
of your breath and body
rocking me to sleep,
the stillness of your curved contours
of radiant rock and oak etched skies
Blessed be for your fragile resilience
and strong beauty
your clarity of life force.
I greet you morning
I give an amplitude of thanksgiving
My one precious night at Oak Flat.
I thought I was going to Oak Flat to honor my commitment to the Coalition. It turns out I went to Oak Flat to honor my commitment to Mother Earth.
Wendsler set the stage for a spiritual encounter by naming Oak Flat as sacred, Resolution Copper as evil. He said, "You came. You didn't have to come. You came because you knew there was something wrong in the world." I felt like he was speaking to me - because I did come when I didn't have to come. I overcame a lot of obstacles just to be there, in fact. My presence there felt miraculous.
And I do feel like something is wrong with the world - not in the way most American Christians think of it, in terms of "sinful" issues that they try to fix with politicians like Trump. But rather in terms of a deep, enduring disconnect from all that is important: one another and mother nature.
Mother Nature is a term that's thrown around a lot, but it's not some simple phrase for the Apache. They revere the mother, they are devoted to her, and the mother is embodied in Oak Flat. She's right here. Wendsler is dedicating his life and all of his time to defending her. He is passionate, and I felt that when I was there. He is like a soft-spoken yet firebrand preacher. And not just him - the whole ceremony and all of the speakers, singers, and dancers really touched me.
Even as I struggled with a cough and back pain, getting up to try to ease the pain as the ceremony went on and on, eight hours of ceremony passed like it was nothing. The songs, the chanting, the stories, observing Apache rituals like entering the circle from the east, turning around - always clockwise - and throwing a bit of sacred tobacco into the fire... It was a religious ceremony unlike any other. And what was even more astounding was that I was being invited to participate.
This fight against Resolution Copper is being led by Apache Stronghold. They have many allies, and they are inviting still more. They are inviting us into the circle, saying - now the hoop is complete. The sacred hoop is rewoven. All of humanity should be rising up to join them. After all they've been through, the wars, colonization, imprisonment, devaluing, defrauding, undermining, and the threat of actual mining and destruction, they are *owed* that solidarity, from all Americans and all people of faith.
This is not just their fight. It's mine, too. Like John Mendez said on November 4th, "You think you came to support the Apache struggle? You'll realize - you came to learn about your own struggle, and how it's connected to the Apache struggle."
The question will I join them? feels rhetorical. It's like Jesus said - you're either for us or you're against us. Of course I'm in it. By default. The earth is being plundered and pillaged all around me. Everything we do every day relates to that.
The idea of sacred land is an easier concept for me to embrace than a sacred god that is out there, somewhere, in the universe. One of the faith leaders, Stephen, said, "When Christianity lost its connection to the natural world by casting God into outer space, my faith lost its soul." That resonated with me. He then added, "The Creator resides in this place. If we allow the destruction of this place, we allow the destruction of God. This land is not a resource, it is a part of God."
I can't get behind the idea of a distant god I'm supposed to pray to, whose form I cannot feel or fathom. But I do want to get behind the idea of a God who resides within creation. The land is here, it's under my feet. I can feel it, I can touch it. Like the Polish woman said, "Mother earth is your mom. Fight for her. No matter where you are, you have the ground beneath your feet."
It's a spirituality that literally grounds you, while requiring no grand leaps of faith. Mother Earth is beautiful, sustaining, supporting. She is all we have, she is undeniably here and real. And if we don't fight for her, we ourselves will die. We cannot rape and pillage her any longer. We need to fight.
I came to Oak Flat to learn about the place, the creatures who live there, the people who pray there, the threats from the mining industry and the ways people are working to save Oak Flat. And I came to pray. The Prayer Rising was a wonderful opportunity to learn about all these things and to pray.
I appreciate very much the leaders of Apache Stronghold and the leaders who traveled from distant places to guide us through the Prayer Rising. They came well prepared to guide participants from diverse traditions and join us in a common cause. It was gratifying to acknowledge our common concerns and experience a shared hope.
I learned a lot on November. I returned to my home in Chandler, AZ ready to learn more. I have been reading about Oak Flat, Indigenous traditions, the US Forest, and the actions my congressional representatives have taken or not taken to save Oak Flat.
I also came home making a commitment to share what I learned with others and invite others to take action. I have been sending pictures to friends and family, and telling them about what I experienced on Nov. 4.
I will long remember this day and draw inspiration to continue praying and advocating for the preservation of Oak Flat.
Being present at Oak Flat on November 4th was special for me. As soon as I arrived I felt at home and at peace. There was a feeling of being welcomed and accepted. I knew how sacred and important the land is but it was a shift as I felt immersed. The land was talking all around me and I got to fully experience it.
My spiritual journey has shifted as I moved away from my religion and attempted to find who I am. As I began running I felt a connection and unity. Sitting in a circle connected this as I realized how we all come together as one circle. We were all present and I felt my spirit touched by the unity.
I am inspired and energized to continue being involved in this work. This struggle is all of ours and we must do right by standing with Apache Stronghold. I will share my knowledge with my community and encourage them to join in solidarity.
On Saturday, November 4th, I was one of many who gathered at Oak Flat campground to pray at the invitation of Apache Stronghold. That day we heard many Indigenous leaders speak to the importance of telling the truth about the Reality we live in, and protecting and reconnecting to our Mother Earth.
Apache Stronghold leader, Wendsler Nosie, explained the purpose of November 4 as an invitation for us (settlers) to take our place in the Circle. The Circle was broken when colonizers invaded and murdered the Indigenous Peoples of America at their arrival. Now, in a historical moment, settlers have been invited into the Circle to complete it and take our place alongside our Indigenous siblings.
This invitation is not a quick ‘fix’ for what has been broken, but instead invites us into the work of restoration and healing. Much like a baptism, the acceptance of this invitation is a commitment to following and working for the ways of life all the days of our lives. When Rev. Carol Rose accepted the basket in the Circle it was the acceptance of a mandate, a commitment. It was an acknowledgement of our responsibility (as white settlers) to combat and dismantle the systems of destruction, oppression, and capitalism that we have perpetuated for too long.
I am a white settler, descended on both sides of my family from Mennonites who left their ancestral lands in Europe to come to the Americas. My faith tradition (Mennonite/Christian) and holy text (the Bible) preach these same values of truth telling and breaking down oppressions. As I was listening to the Indigenous speakers on Saturday I was struck by the image of the parable of the Prodigal Son from the book of Luke.
If you are familiar with Christian stories then you have probably heard of the Prodigal Son. It is a parable that also tells the story of Mother Earth and her two children. One day the younger of Mother Earth’s children demanded their part of her bounty, took what was given, and left her for dead. For a long time the younger child lived as if the Earth was no longer their Mother, but an endless bank account to withdraw from. One day, to the child’s surprise, they found that they had used up all the resources that had been freely given and were facing certain death. The child was overcome with shame, but knew their only hope of survival was to go back to Mother Earth and beg forgiveness.
We, as settlers, are the prodigal children. We have taken all that we can from Mother Earth, and we have squandered it on ourselves with no thought to the future or to the care of our Mother. On Saturday, we were invited back by our Indigenous siblings to take our place as Mother Earth’s children.
I am deeply honored and grateful to have been a part of this day and I hope to continue to grow and learn more about my own faith as I seek reconnection with Mother Earth.