The above question in the title, posed as it is, may appear callous but at times the plight of indigenous peoples around the globe seems so perilous that there seems little hope of reversing the systematic destruction of their populations and habitats. However, there are signs of resistance and hope. One example of this is the current battle to save Oak Flat, Arizona. San Carlos Apaches are protesting the dubious selling-off of lands in Arizona, land that is sacred to their tribe, and this combined with an online petition and growing media coverage of the situation may well strike a blow at the heart of Washington by forcing the bill to be overturned.
Indigenous Americans, Native Americans, American Indians, whatever term we may wish to use, have been treated appallingly over the years and a good deal of misinformation exists around who these people are, and about how they came to be marginalised within U.S. society. The San Carlos Apaches are just one small community, but it seems that their efforts at halting a corrupt deal may well come to fruition. The reason that the words ‘dubious’ and ‘corrupt’ have been used here is to do with the fact that the bill that allowed such lands to be sold off for mining purposes was pushed through without due diligence, and was actually attached to an unrelated defense bill concerned with military spending. Further reasons for using such words has to do with the fact that the land being sold off is public land that is supposed to have special protections as enforced by Eisenhower and Nixon governments, respectively. However, such ‘protections’ do not always carry much weight where future profits are concerned and so the need to act is of the upmost importance. An online petition, currently with over 1,000,000 names added to it, will help demonstrate to policy makers in Washington that this deal should not and cannot go ahead. Please sign the petition here: AVAAZ.org/SaveOakFlat
For anyone interested in learning about past atrocities, betrayals, and the general maltreatment of indigenous peoples there are a number of easily accessed items of popular culture. Two such items that spring readily to mind are Johnny Cash’s 1964 recording of Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian (recently revisited by artists such as Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, and David Rawlings on the tribute album Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited), and Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the Indian West.
For those interested in a more in-depth discussion of the wider problem of the systematic genocide of indigenous peoples, refer to Benjamin Madley’s paper, “Patterns of frontier genocide 1803–1910: the Aboriginal Tasmanians, the Yuki of California, and the Herero of Namibia,” in Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6 (2), June, 167–192.
And for those sitting on the fence and not sure of whether there is a need to act or not, given that there are so many names added to the petition already, please take a look at the following letter released by Apache Stronghold concerning the treatment of Apache women who have tried speaking with Arizona congressman Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ, 4th Dist.) whilst in Washington as recently as July 23rd 2015:
Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar Orders Apache Stronghold Visitors Removed by Capitol Police, Threatens Grandmothers With Arrest
July 23. 2015 (Washington D.C.) – Yesterday afternoon, following the successful completion of Apache Stronghold (www.Apache-Stronghold.com) “Caravan to D.C.” and their “Save the Oak Flat Act Rally” on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building, some Apache Stronghold members – mostly grandmothers and young women – went to visit their Arizona representatives in Congress and talk with them about the Apaches national stand in defense of their sacred place known today as Oak Flat. Oak Flat was named earlier this year as one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in the United States by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Among those that the Apache Stronghold contingent visited was Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ, 4th Dist.). The purpose of their visit was to address a “Dear Colleague” letter that Rep. Paul Gosar recently sent out to fellow House members regarding the “Save Oak Flat Act” introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva, with 17 bi- partisan co-sponsors. In his letter, Rep. Gosar insulted the Apaches and called them “liars.”
Mrs. Vonda Cassadore of Bylas, Arizona, requested that Rep. Gosar come out of his back office briefly so that Mrs. Cassadore could ask him some questions about his “Dear Colleague” letter. Rather than speak with Mrs. Cassadore and the other ladies and Apache Stronghold members with her, Rep. Gosar responded by hiding behind a locked door and calling the Capitol Police, threatening to have Mrs.Cassadore and her friends immediately arrested. Rep.Gosar had the police escort Mrs.Cassadore and her Apache Stronghold associates and friends entirely out of the Cannon Office Building. Mrs. Cassadore stated that, “we’ll remember this when Election Day comes around. Sacred land means more than money.”
“Rep. Gosar has a record of intolerance and saying vicious things against Native Americans, but his behavior has now become stranger than ever,” said Apache Stronghold spokesperson Wendsler Nosie, Sr. “There is no excuse for his mistreatment of the Apache grandmothers and young ladies who came to his office. Cowering behind a locked door, refusing to come out, and then calling a squad of policemen to sweep those gentle ladies away is just terrible. Rep.Gosar should apologize for that, as well as for his strange and insulting ‘Dear Colleague’ letter.”
Wendsler Nosie, Sr., Spokesperson, Apache Stronghold firstname.lastname@example.org
“Grijalva’s Save Oak Flat Bill Boosted by Historic Preservation Listing” http://
H.R. 2811 (“Save Oak Flat Act”) https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/2811
Earlier, Gosar had called American Indians “wards of the federal government” in a roundtable discussion about the controversial Arizona land deal. See “Congressman’s Native American remark causes outcry,” Associated Press (December 10, 2014) http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/politics/ 2014/12/11/congressmans-native-american-remark-causes-outcry/20258071/