The area known as Oak Flat is part of Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, and the Apache have used it for generations in young women’s coming-of-age ceremonies. In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower removed it from consideration for mining activities in recognition of its natural and cultural value. But in December 2014, during the final days of the previous Congress, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) added a rider to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act that opened the land to mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.
That change led to this week’s protests in Washington. Wendsler Nosie Sr. and his granddaughter, 16-year-old Naelyn Pike, led the Apache Stronghold coalition with speeches, prayers and songs, vowing to save land that is holy to them. At a separate rally Tuesday, they were joined by over 200 supporters — many representing faith groups in solidarity with the Apache — as well as Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who introduced legislation in June that would once again protect the land from mining. The bill has received support from the Sierra Club, National Congress of American Indians and tribes throughout the country.