Service Title: Learn as We Lead: Like A Tree Planted By Water
Speaker: Naelyn Pike, Apache Stronghold
Scripture: Jeremiah 17:5-10

Hello everyone. Dagodeh shii Naelyn Pike gonzee, Chi’chil Biłdagoteel. Ahi’yee’ Ashoo. I am very excited to be a part of today’s Freedom Church. We had a really busy week. On Thursday, USDA deputy chief associate Barnie Gyant came to Oak Flat on behalf of the Biden Administration in consultation with the San Carlos Apache Tribe. The Apache Stronghold was able to present, and to share our story and our perspective on the holiness of Oak Flat, which is Chíchʼil Bił Dagoteel. Barney Gyant and Tonto National Forest came to the Oak Flat campground, and were able to meet with the Apache Stronghold to see the petroglyphs, and the artifacts of our people, to see it for themselves. Many people like Reverend Liz Theoharis and John Wessel-McCoy came and spoke on behalf of the Poor People’s Campaign. We had our elder Sandra Rambler who’s been a longtime fighter and a part of the Apache stronghold tell her story. My grandfather Wedsler Nosie spoke about the significance of our religion and how it should be equal to us in this nation. 

As we know that the long history from the founding of this country has been on the backs of slaves and the bodies of our people. I’m currently on the San Carlos Reservation which was Fort San Carlos, a concentration camp where my ancestors were taken away as prisoners of war from Oak Flat. Understanding that history, our greatest resilience is our spiritual connection to the land and our freedom of prayer.

But with the Resolution copper mine wanting to extract this copper ore and the 2014 senate land transfer has caused what we had to had on Thursday, to have an agency come to Oak Flat and to have to testify that our religion is here and alive. Being a twenty-two year old girl and having to explain to someone that my way of prayer and our people’s history and religious beliefs are real is heartbreaking. In 2014 senator John McCain slipped this land transfer into the national defense bill as a midnight rider, bypassing federal laws. This means that if Resolution Copper gets their way, we as Apache people can no longer go there and that destruction of the land will be forever. 

I hope that after being on the land with our prayer and our spirituality, Gyant and the Biden Administration’s hearts and minds will be open to what is actually there. What’s been there since time immemorial, before colonial policy and the Western system has been forced on our people. And that’s a part of the systemic racism that we see today, with the violation of federal laws. When these laws are bypassed it means that public consultation doesn’t matter.

He told us that consultation with the tribe is just a check on the list, so that we can further the process to get the land transfer to go through. 

The Poor People’s Campaign has as its mission to open the public’s eye to oppression and systemic racism and we see it here now with the first people. That’s why this week we’re having our march. We as Apache people will be leaving the reservation and going back home to Oak Flat to break those invisible chains of oppression. We as native people today walk with a ball and chains that tell us that we’re stuck on the reservation, that we can’t pray, that our culture is dead. But with the fight for Oak Flat and the Apache stronghold, our biggest weapon is prayer. To everyone today who’s listening, that’s what I ask of you: to pray for the fight, to pray for Oak Flat, and to pray that the congress will do the right thing and see our religion as equal.

We’re told that we’re prisoners of war, and that we are a people that can still be erased. But the voice of the Poor People’s Campaign and the voice of the Apache stronghold can cause a ripple effect so that we can all pray.

As Apache Stronghold we’re fighting for Oak Flat for everyone. This is not just an Apache fight and this is not just an indigenous fight. We are stewards of the land, our religion and our way of life is interconnected. So everything that we do to fight for Oak Flat, to fight for clean air and clean water, to fight for the freedom of religion, is so that each and every one of us and our children and grandchildren, those yet to be born, are able to have these rights. Because currently with the way that Congress is acting, Biden’s broken promises, and the way that the USDA is acting towards the Apache Stronghold and all of us, there will be no future.

We’re marching to bring different people from different ways of life together in spiritual connection of the land, so that we can pray together so that there can be a future. So that one day when I have children, they will have the same right, so that your children and your grandchildren can have that same right, because we’re all human beings and we deserve that. I believe that we deserve the freedom of prayer.

This is our eighth annual march. When we did our first march, it was only a small group of us here on the reservation. But this weekend, people from all four directions are coming to Oak Flat. We have people coming from the Poor People’s Campaign in Phoenix on the west, we have us as the Stronghold coming from the east, we have the O’odham people coming from the south, and the Dine (Navajo) people and indigenous highschool students from Brophy College Preparatory coming in from the north. This support is needed because if we support one another, if we put one another together, then we can create that change. We see it here today at Freedom Church of the Poor.