For decades, the state of Oak Flat in southeast Arizona has been at the center of a fight for raw materials. Since 2005, a mining company has been urging the US government to excavate the copper ore discovered in 1995 at the site. The potential impact of the mine goes well beyond the estimated 1.5 billion tons of waste it would produce: it would destroy land that has been sacred to the San Carlos Apache tribe for generations. Oak Flat, called Chich’il Bildagoteel in the Apache language, would literally fall into a void; If so, “our spiritual existence will be threatened,” says tribal chairman Terry Rambler in Oak Flat, Lauren Redniss’ new book on the conflict.
Oak Flat takes a unique approach to the tough job that Calls of these conflict on paper. Like Redniss’s three previous books, which focus primarily on science and history, Oak Flat combines intense reporting with Redniss’ own illustrations and design elements. Pages with historical details or excerpts from interviews are accompanied by hand-drawn portraits, sometimes giving way to surreal illustrations and poetry-like considerations. As a graphic novel for non-fiction books, Oak Flat makes centuries of history appear immersive and concrete and manages to adequately weight everything that can be lost along with the land. and to show how deep the injustice is when Indians struggle to protect their own.
(Photo: Courtesy Penguin Random House)
Redniss became interested in writing about Oak Flat in 2015 after reading a brief comment in the New York Times on the land transfer debate. Little mention was made of the people who would be affected, she recalls. Your own coverage would be of those living on the San Carlos Indian Reservation and the nearby town of Superior. She spent the next five For years I got to know a family with several generations of activists: Wendsler Nosie, his daughter Vanessa Nosie and their three school years Daughters, Naelyn Pike, Nizhoni Pike and Baasé-O Pike. Redniss also spent time with local families who have worked in the mining industry for decades. “Whether you support the mine or are against the mine, I wanted to understand your life and your challenges and your reasons,” she told me. “I didn’t want to paint guilty parties. I think we can hold government and businesses accountable. “
When it came time to write, Redniss who is not an Indian wanted to make sure she presented the voices of the stakeholders in as immediately as possible. She devotes many pages Transcripts of conversations with the nosies and of Naelyn’s statements at a congressional hearing on Oak Flat in 2013. It contrasts the incredible activism of the Pikes with their everyday lives as teenagers. (At some point Naelyn wrote on Instagram: “I’m just a modern female Apache warrior fighting for my people against companies that are trying to take over Mother Earth!”) Throughout Oak Flat, Redniss pays attention to the family sense of humor allow and closeness come through.
Much of the book is about testifying to the religious and ecological importance of the country. Oak Flat is known to Apaches as the home of the Gaan or mountain spirits and the venue for many ceremonies. The country is home to some of the Apache’s best-preserved archaeological sites, as well as pristine flora and fauna such as mature trees and endangered species such as Ocelots that Redniss draws in realistic detail. She frequently returns to the Sunrise Dance Ceremony at Oak Flat, held for every girl through puberty, and shows the dance with portraits of the women’s faces or illustrations of the event in deep red tones. (Such dances were banned by the Home Office and kept secret for a period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.) Towards the end of the book, Naelyn speaks again to members of Congress and tells them, “Oak Flat sets a precedent for all holy places. “Redniss then takes us through extensive illustrations of what Naelyn calls each place: Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, South Dakota’s Black Hills. “If these holy lands are gone, who are we?” Asks Naelyn.
The ongoing fight over Oak apartment is a helpful demonstration of the (often intentionally) confusing political maneuvers that make it difficult to combat extractive industries. In 2014, some members of Congress amended a bill to participate in a land swap that gave the Oak Flat mining company Dissolution of copper. President Obama then signed it into law. The forest service has since drawn up an environmental impact statement for the planned mine. Merely publishing the document would require the law to transfer the land to the mining company within 60 days.
The situation has accelerated considerably since Oak Flat went to press. In the past few months, the outgoing Trump administration has tried to shorten the deadline for the environmental impact statement so that the land transfer can be initiated before the Biden administration takes over. While it is not clear whether the president-elect would save Oak Flat if the process were delayed until he took office, he has promised to work more closely with tribal leaders. At the beginning of January, the forest service announced that it would publish the environmental impact statement by January 15, although the Advisory Board for Monument Preservation, one of the federal authorities advising on the land exchange, raised several objections that it had not properly consulted with the tribe. On January 12, Apache Stronghold, a group led by Wendsler Nosie, sued the federal government for stopping the land transfer, saying they had not been properly informed of the review and that their religious rights were being violated.
Oak Flat translates this aggravating world of bureaucracy and boredom into a thoughtful, often beautiful and deeply human story. The book manages to do justice to Oak Flat as its own universe of legal details and conflicts of interest, but which also represents a broader dynamic and abuses that have been going on in America for centuries. At seemingly every corner in the history of the struggle is bureaucratic nonsense, insincere political grandeur, and evidence of the apparent disenfranchisement of Native Americans. “We see the history of the United States as a history of conquest and breach of treaty,” says Redniss. “And what we’re seeing here is that it’s not just history.”
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Main illustration: © 2020 by Lauren Redniss, out of Oak Flat