On Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will hear arguments from the Apache Stronghold in its last-ditch effort to prevent tribal sacred lands from being turned over to two foreign mining companies. If the Apache lose this last round, there may be no stopping the mining companies from gouging into the land, leaving a sinkhole two-miles wide and 1,000-foot deep.
What does Oak Flat mean to Apache people?
Naelyn Pike of the San Carlos Apache says that this land is the “cornerstone” of her people’s religion. It is a site for religious observance, set aside by the Creator for the Apache as a “corridor to the next world.”
It is a place for tribal ceremonies and a place, she says, for Apache people “to come every day.”
“Everything that we use from our shoelaces, to how we wash our hair, to the stones we use for our prayers and our ceremonies are all a part of this land,” she says. If the 9th Circuit allows the destruction of Oak Flat, Naelyn says “it will be gone forever and eventually our religion will go with it.”
It merits repeating – the destruction of Oak Flat is comparable to the destruction of the Vatican or Temple Mount for Catholics and Jews. The First Amendment explicitly protects freedom of worship. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act explicitly protects Americans from having substantial burdens placed on the free exercise of their religion.
If the destruction of Oak Flat is not a substantial burden, words have no meaning.