“Not all sacred or holy land is marked with a steeple.” That is the message of a letter signed by hundreds of religious liberty advocates to their representatives in Congress asking for the passage of the Save Oak Flat Act (H.R. 1884/S. 915).The measure would protect this land – which is sacred to many Southwestern tribes, including the Apache, Hopi, Yavapai, and Zuni – from utter devastation.
Chí’chil Biłdagoteel, loosely translated as “Oak Flat” in English, is located just an hour east of Phoenix, Arizona. In a provision added to the National Defense Authorization Act in 2014, Congress pledged the land to a foreign mining operation that would devastate the land, turning it into a massive crater and ultimately preventing individual access – either for religious ceremonies and observances or for outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and bird watching.
The Biden administration temporarily stopped the transfer of the land while environmental studies were reviewed, but after courts rejected religious liberty arguments to protect the land, it will likely take an act of Congress to halt the transfer for good. The Save Oak Flat Act is designed to do just that: it would repeal the requirement for the Department of Agriculture to convey the land to Resolution Copper Mining, LLC.
In a letter sent to members of Congress, hundreds of signers explained the importance of protecting the land and the destruction that would result from proposed mining operations.
The fate of Chí’chil Biłdagoteel is in the hands of Congress. Don’t let a mining company destroy this sacred space and natural wonder with a crater that would be approximately the length of the National Mall and deep enough to stack two Washington Monuments. Be a champion of religious freedom by ensuring this Indigenous sacred sanctuary continues to be protected.
As Native American Heritage Month gets under way, there is no better time to speak out on this important issue and for Congress to protect this land that is sacred to so many. Even if you have not added your name to the letter, it’s not too late to press your member of Congress to support the Save Oak Flat Act! Call your representative today!
For more on Oak Flat and the efforts to save it, check out Season 3, Episode 17 of Respecting Religion, BJC’s fantastic podcast featuring Executive Director Amanda Tyler and General Counsel Holly Hollman. To add your name for any future release of the letter, click here.