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Dale Miles: Site was never sacred to San Carlos Apache Tribe

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: arizona, dale miles, mining, oak flat, sacred sites, san carlos apache

Dale C. Miles. Photo courtesy Rez Media Group

San Carlos historian speaks out
The real truth about Oak Flat
By Dale Miles

It was with great interest that my son—who just graduated from Arizona State University – showed me a recent story regarding the controversy around Oak Flat, near the small mining town of Superior, Arizona.

As a San Carlos tribal member and Apache historian, I was surprised by some of the misinformation that was contained within the op-ed. My book, “The History of the San Carlos Apache,” which was published by the San Carlos Apache Historic and Cultural Preservation Office in 1997 offers a much different perspective than Ms. Lydia Millet. There has not been a long history of ceremonial or cultural activities such as Sunrise or Holy Ground ceremonies taking place at Oak Flat.

From my personal perspective, the thought of having such a ceremony at Oak Flat, far from the support of relatives, clan members and friends in the San Carlos tribal area is almost unthinkable. My uncle, who lived in Superior, would regularly attend most tribal ceremonies. He would travel to the San Carlos Apache reservation or the White Mountain Apache reservation.

I, myself, attended my first tribal Sunrise ceremony at Cibecue, Arizona in the White Mountains -- the idea of having a sunrise ceremony at Oak Flat was never considered. Such an event requires the support of family, relatives and friends plus the input of the medicine man or spiritual person who performs the complex ceremony. He has much to say about the site and choosing the right place is important because the dance often becomes a community event. Evidently the person who wrote the op-ed didn’t have much knowledge on what the ceremony involves in commitment, logistics and preparation.

In 1970 the Magma Copper Company built a mine shaft on Oak Flat that you can see from the passing highway. At that time no member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe said anything about it being a sacred site. I know because I was living in Superior at the time. Some tribal people from San Carlos even talked about getting employment with the mine.

There were no protests, no publicity of any kind. Why not? If this area was sacred, wouldn’t opposition arise many years before today? There was never any statement made by tribal members or tribal leadership. It wasn’t until recent years that the site of Oak Flat was called sacred in any kind of way. All one has to do is examine the records to see if the word sacred was ever used for the site.

However, the real truth about speaking out with a different opinion on Oak Flat that is contrary to the tribal government’s stance is fear. People working for the tribe will often say (to me and others) that if they go against what the tribal council supports they will be fired.

Does it not bother anyone that rarely do we hear a voice of someone on the street who doesn’t support tribal government’s view on Oak Flat? If people have a different opinion on a subject they should not have to be called traitors or be accused of being against their own people.

Before making any kind of judgment on a subject of importance all the facts should be studied and examined to the utmost for the good of all concerned.

Dale Miles is a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe who served as the tribe's first historian. Under his management, the tribe built a cultural center and organized a preservation office. Miles was the first Apache historian to work with the Smithsonian Institute, contributing to the book "Stories of the People: Native American Voices" that celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Smithsonian and the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian. He resides in Arizona.

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