Meet the Apache Activists Opening for Neil Young
And then there’s the very musical ruckus being raised by the Apache Stronghold caravan, of course. Rolling Stone caught up with Pike and about two dozen other members of the caravan last week at a drum circle in New York’s Columbus Circle, the day after they opened for Young in nearby Camden, New Jersey. For many in the caravan, this marks their first visit to New York City. (“Not even a single statue to honor the Native people who used to live here, but a big old statue of Columbus,” drummer and caravan member Rudy Red Dog says. “Go figure.”)
They walk down Broadway toward the theater district and Times Square for a noon flash mob to raise awareness for their campaign. There, in the middle of a scrum of curious tourists, flanked by billboards for Coca-Cola and Broadway shows, teenage caravan member Naelyn Pike dances around a circle of drummers, her fist full of arrows. “If the government can do this to us, they can do it to everybody else,” she says. “This isn’t just an Apache fight, or a Native American fight, it’s an American fight. This affects all of us.”
The girl’s grandfather, Wendsler Nosie Sr., a former tribal chairman and one of the chief organizers of the caravan, explains how the canyons of Oak Flat fit into the historical and spiritual life of the Apache. “For the Apache, it’s a sacred site, a holy site, the identity of our people,” he says. “What would Congress say if they wanted to mine on Mount Sinai? For us it’s the same.”
This week the Apache Stronghold caravan makes its last stop, in Washington, D.C. They’re planning a midday rally outside the Capitol on July 22, and are meeting with members of the House and the Senate, looking to recruit more Congressional allies to overturn the rider that gave away their land. A drum circle outside Sen. McCain’s office isn’t out of the question. They’ve also found an ally in Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, a progressive champion in the House who’s introduced the Save Oak Flat Act, for which he is rustling up co-sponsors.
“We’ve broken faith with Native American communities time and time again. Giving away a sacred site of the First Americans to a foreign-owned corporation strikes me as especially cruel,” Rep. Grijalva says in an email. “Oak Flat should be preserved on its own merits – President Eisenhower was right to prohibit mining on these lands – and also to show the respect we have always owed Indian Country and too often failed to demonstrate.”
It’s a David and Goliath fight, but after weeks on the road, meeting with other tribes, talking at churches and community centers, and sharing the stage with one of the world’s most iconic rebel rockers, Wendsler Nosie Sr. is optimistic. “People are finally waking up to this dirty deal,” he says. “We believe there’s conscience in America, and we decided to take our fight on the road to reach out to the power of this country. And the power’s not Congress. It’s the people.”
As for Neil Young, he tells Rolling Stone in an email that he was motivated to get involved in the Apache fight because he hopes that “by watching our Native American brothers and sisters” – who have taken care of their own land “since time immemorial” – “we can learn how to take better care of our precious gift.”
Note: The author of this piece is employed by Avaaz.
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