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Julian Brave NoiseCat: Sen. John McCain sells out on sacred sites

Wendsler Nosie Sr., a council member from the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona, at a July 22, 2015, rally at the U.S. Capitol. Photo from Apache Stronghold / Facebook

Julian Brave NoiseCat, the Native Issues Fellow for The Huffington Post, looks at the involvement of Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) in a land swap that allows a mining development at Oak Flat, a sacred Apache site in Arizona:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been the subject of intense criticism from Native activists and their supporters over the past year for his role in orchestrating the sale of Oak Flat, an Apache holy site located in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, to foreign mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. In December 2014, McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) added a rider onto the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, allowing the Oak Flat deal to slide through.

Members of the San Carlos Apache Nation know Oak Flat as Chich’il Biłdagoteel, a site where they gather food and medicinal plants and host dances and healing ceremonies. The area was once part of the old San Carlos reservation and functioned as a prisoner-of-war camp for the Apache during their decades-long struggle against the United States and Mexico. Not far from Oak Flat is a place called "Apache Leap" where, in 1870, Apache warriors plunged over a cliff to their deaths rather than surrender to the United States cavalry. Today the site contains the memory of Apache leaders like Geronimo, Cochise and Mangas Coloradas, and the tribe believes it belongs to powerful Diyin, or holy people.

Congress' move to sell off Oak Flat, which continues a long history of taking land from the Apache, provoked outrage and protests among Native activists and their supporters. Members of the San Carlos Apache Nation began an occupation of the site in February 2015, protesting the sale as an attack on religious freedom, and led a cross-country march from Arizona to Washington, D.C. that ended with a rally on the lawn of the Capitol building in July. In August, Adriano Tsinigine, a young Oak Flat supporter, tricked an unwitting Sen. McCain into taking a photo with a placard bearing the Apache slogan-turned-national-rallying-cry: "Protect Oak Flat."

The Apache are still occupying Oak Flat, and in the resilient spirit of their ancestors, they are holding out hope for a bill from Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) that would protect the land from development -- though the legislation is a long shot to make it through Congress.

Amid all this tension, many might be surprised to learn that 26 years ago, McCain was one of the strongest congressional supporters of protecting sacred sites like Oak Flat.

Get the Story:
Julian Brave NoiseCat: John McCain Fought For Native Religious Freedom, Then Sold Sacred Oak Flat (The Huffington Post 9/28)

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