The Apache are coming to Washington. They are coming to protect a public campground in Arizona known as Oak Flat, called in Apache, Chi’chil Bildagoteel. They come to repair the damage that was done back in December of the last Congress, when at the 11 ½ hour (literally, 11:30 at night before a vote the next day) a land exchange amendment was attached to a must pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which Congress enacted into law. This amendment (Section 3003 of the National Defense Authorization Act) would give Oak Flat to two huge multi-national mining companies (Rio Tinto of the UK and BHP Billiton of Australia). The law has devastating effects on the Apache and, by extension, on all other Native tribes and nations in the country.

Unless Section 3003 of the NDAA is repealed, Oak Flat would be handed over to Rio Tinto. The company’s goal is to use the cheapest mining method available to pull copper and other minerals out of the ground—starting at 7000 feet below the surface of Oak Flat—without filling the cavity. The result would be a crater 2 miles wide and 1000 feet deep, along with a mountain of toxic waste. What’s more, it is not clear yet what impact the proposed mine would have on the water supply in Southeast Arizona—an area that has experienced drought conditions for 15 years. There will be an Environmental Impact Statement, but the law specifies that no matter what the outcome of the study Rio Tinto will take possession of the land and the mine will be built.


The Apache come not because the land they call home belongs to them; they come because they belong to it. This land has shaped their language, is critical to their cultural and religious life, and provides food, shelter, beauty, recreation, and inspiration. They have to come to protect their sacred grounds, their language, their culture, their children, and their lives.

Evidently, this land—seemingly a federal asset to be disposed of and destroyed for short-term profit—does not mean the same to the members of Congress who orchestrated this legislative sleight of hand to pass the Exchange bill that could not pass on its own merits in the last five Congresses. Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' Democrats seek to counter GOP attacks on gas prices Biden nominates Jeff Flake as ambassador to Turkey MORE (R-Ariz.) talks about the jobs 1400 the mine will create for Arizonans; an independent consultant estimates it would be more like 400. Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.), before running for the Senate served as a lobbyist for Rio Tinto. Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarOvernight Health Care: CDC director warns of 'pandemic of the unvaccinated' | Biden says social media platforms 'killing people' | Florida accounts for 20 percent of new cases Hillicon Valley: Biden: Social media platforms 'killing people' | Tech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push | Top House antitrust Republican forms 'Freedom from Big Tech Caucus' Top House antitrust Republican forms 'Freedom from Big Tech Caucus' MORE (R-Ariz.) has said that environmental review is a hindrance to the business of buying and selling property. The original bill sponsor, former Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), is in federal prison, in part, for his role in this scheme.

The Apache and their Native companions come to make themselves visible to those of us for whom they, too often, are invisible. They come to generate support of Rep. Raul Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) repeal bill H.R. 2811 the “Save Oak Flat Act.” They will be arriving Tuesday, July 21 and will be making a sacred run to the White House and then walking to the Capitol. On Wednesday, July 22 they will gather, with leaders of many other tribes, 11:00 am-2:00 pm on the Capitol Grounds, Area 11. There, members of Congress and tribal leaders will speak about the urgency of saving not only Oak Flat, but other sacred sites around the U.S.

The roots of the damage done back in December stretch much further back than that. To end the conflict between the settlers moving West and the Apache bands who lived there, the U.S. government created the San Carlos Apache Reservation; included in its boundaries was Mt. Graham/Dzil Nchaa Si `an, also sacred to the Apache. Oak Flat/Chi’chil Bildagoteel was just outside the original reservation boundary, but part of the original Apache homeland.  Because the settlers wanted access to the rich resources of these sacred lands, the reservation boundary line was simply moved, by the federal government, two years later.  Not much has changed. The Apache know it and other Native American tribes know it. If this can happen to the Apache, it can happen to any of the tribes. A bill or even a hidden rider passed by Congress can displace them and tear at the very fabric of their culture, language, families, and lives.

So, the Apache haven’t come alone. Tribal leaders from 450 nations have come to talk about their concerns, fears, and outrage that Americans, particularly first Americans, can be treated this way.

Come meet them, listen to them, talk to these American brothers and sisters—and support them in their fight.

Boyd is Easley Professor of Religion at Wake Forest University. He is on the caravan with the Apache-Stronghold.