Apache Stronghold: The Spiritual Movement to Save Oak Flat – EcoJustice Radio


EcoJustice RadioJoin Stephanie Mushrush and Carrie “Cc” Curley Strong as they share about the Apache Stronghold spiritual movement to Save Oak Flat (Chi’chil Bildagoteel). Apache Stronghold, led by Wendsler Nosie, Sr. for the last decade, is a coalition of Apaches, other Native peoples to protect the Apache Way of life: their sacred sites and cultural and spiritual heritage. The movement is committed to preventing Resolution Copper, a foreign mining corporation & subsidiary of BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, from desecrating the San Carlos Apache Nation’s ancestral lands. Apache Stronghold seeks an injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court to force the Forest Service to stop the land swap that would clear the way for the mine.

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Save Oak Flat, Apache Stronghold

In December 2014 the U.S. government gave 2400 acres of National Forest land in Arizona to one of the biggest mining companies in the world, Resolution Copper (an Australian/British conglomerate.) Resolution Copper plans to mine the area which will destroy many Apache sacred sites and also destroy a unique desert riparian ecosystem.

A Tragic Proposal to Swap Sacred Site Oak Flat for Copper

Resolution Copper proposes building an environmentally destructive “block cave” copper mine on Oak Flat, which would gravely threaten land, water, air quality, cultural and sacred sites, including areas with petroglyphs and burial grounds of the Apache. In 2015, a deceptive land swap hidden in the Defense Authorization Act, aimed to give the ancestral Apache lands of Oak flat to Resolution Copper.

STORY: Seventh Generation: The Voice and Leadership of Indigenous Youth

Having been deemed “Forest Service land” as a result of colonization, Oak Flat was to be exchanged for private “conservation” lands throughout Arizona. Since 1955, due to the Oak Flat Withdrawal, Oak Flat had been protected from all forms of public appropriation as part of the Tonto National Forest. Oak Flat is a federally registered Apache Traditional Cultural Property and National Historic District within the mapped lands of the Apaches, per the U.S. Treaty of 1852 with the Western Apache Nation. Oak Flat advocates assert that President Eisenhower initiated this withdrawal to effectively protect the area from mining due to its cultural and natural value.

The protections for Oak Flat were eliminated with a last-minute rider to a must-pass defense bill in 2015 and the United States government decided to transfer the land to Resolution Copper, a foreign-owned mining company. Resolution Copper’s mine will swallow the site in a 2-mile-wide and 1,100-foot-deep crater—rendering longstanding religious practices impossible and devastating the Apache way of life.

Both diverse artists in their own right, Stephanie and Cc share how artivism informs the breadth of their activism and how their spiritual journeys marching to Oak Flat have distinctly empowered and forever transformed their own lives.

“They declared war on our religion, we must stand in unity and fight to the very end, for this is a holy war.”  — Wendsler Nosie Sr. , long time opponent of Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and former Chairman and Councilman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. 

Stephanie Mushrush is a Co-Founder of Red Earth Defense, a grassroots indigenous-led LA community organization; a Many Winters Gathering Of Elders – Core Committee member; and an organizer with Apache Stronghold to protect Chich’il Bildagoteel aka. Oak Flat in Arizona. Stephanie is a member of the Washoe Tribe of NV & CA and identifies as an urban Native, as well as half Filipina. After working at Sherman Indian High School for nearly a decade, Stephanie earned her Master of Social Welfare from UCLA in 2013. She now works as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at American Indian Counseling Center for LA County. She is also a singer/musician under the artist name Sallee Free. Her debut album, inspired by inter-generational healing, will be released in early 2019.

Carrie “Cc” Sage Curley is a key member of the Apache Stronghold spiritual movement to Save Oak Flat, Chi Chil Bildagoteel. She resides on San Carlos Apache Reservation, and her clan is K’aitsehit’i’dn‘. Cc is among the Stronghold that maintained an Oak Flat occupation that lasted over 1.5 years, extended from the first annual gathering in February 2015.

As a longstanding artivist, Cc uses art as her “weapon” to support and engage people in the Apache Stronghold spiritual movement to “Save Oak Flat,” the movement to stop copper mining on the sacred ancestral lands of the San Carlos Apache Nation. She has murals across Indian Country, including a piece representing four generations of women, on Los Angeles’ own Winston Street Alley, aka. Indian Alley. By depicting Indigenous Peoples, she educates and inspires others about Apache culture and their Earth-honoring wisdom traditions. Dedicated to her community, Cc teaches art to Apache children and contributes daily to an Indigenous farm project.

STORY: Missions of Culture: Reclaiming Indigenous Wisdom with Caroline Ward Holland

Website: Apache Stronghold

Facebook: Red Earth Defense

Interview by Carry Kim
Host and Engineer: JP Morris
Executive Producer: Mark Morris
Music: Javier Kadry
Episode 28

Updated 8 August 2022

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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist and designer, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Partners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt