Groundbreaking court ruling in favor of Indigenous religious freedom argument sets important legal precedent for Indigenous land and water protectors
On the same day in Ajo, Arizona two other land protectors facing charges for associated action against border militarization on O’odham homelands who were attacked with pepper spray and rubber bullets on Indigenous People’s Day 2020 received fines and community service.
Tucson, AZ — On January 19, 2022, Amber Ortega, a Hia Ced O’odham and Tohono O’odham land and water protector and O’odham Anti Border Collective member, received a not guilty verdict for her actions to halt border wall construction at A’al Vappia/Quitobaquito spring, a sacred site for Hia Ced O’odham and Tohono O’odham peoples, on September 9, 2020.
A’al Vappia/Quitobaquito spring, one of the only desert water sources for many endangered species within a 40-mile radius, is located in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument right on the US and Mexican border. As one of the land defenders occupied a bulldozer they stated, “You do not have permission to be here, this is O’odham Land. This is a sacred area.” Border wall construction severely drained the scarce ground-water in the area, drastically reduced the spring, and prevented animals from the Mexico side from accessing the only water source in 40-miles. This is a sacred area of the O’odham since time immemorial and a location where Ms. Ortega and other Hia Ced O’odham community members have nearby burial grounds and direct family connections. Amber Ortega and Nellie Jo David, both Hia Ced O’odham and Tohono O’odham women and members of the O’odham Anti Border Collective, were spiritually called to use their bodies to block border wall construction at the Spring by their religious beliefs under O’odham Him:dag (religion, tradition, and culture) to protect their sacred sites and way of culture.
Groundbreaking Impact of the Verdict:
Ortega was represented by attorney Amy Knight, who also successfully represented No More Deaths activist Scott Warren’s similar use of religious freedom for humanitarian work with migrants crossing the border in O’odham homelands. Amber Ortega and Nellie Jo David maintained during their court proceedings that they were acting as required by O’odham Him:dag (religion, tradition, and culture) when they took direct action to protect the sacred site of A’al Vappia/Quitobaquito Springs in Hia Ced O’odham jewed (O’odham homelands) near Ajo, Arizona from destruction by the racist border wall construction. They prayed for the land and water, sang spiritual songs, and put their bodies before the machines of death.
The two argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protected their actions from criminalization, an argument that has been more successful for Western religions but has not been accepted often by U.S. courts for the religions of Indigenous peoples which are place-based and require protection and conservation of sacred sites. The RFRA has been criticized for its origins as a tool created for the benefit of conservative Christian right and is often questioned if its application is to the detriment of other religious communities. This ruling is a victory for Indigenous peoples that opens up ground-breaking legal defense possibilities for other Indigenous land and water protectors.
The RFRA can be used as a defense in both civil and criminal cases, but has most often been used by Indigenous peoples in civil cases, where the law has been stripped of its teeth and is rarely allowed as a defense by Indigenous peoples, such as in case of Navajo Nation vs. USFS. Ms. David took a plea deal in June 2021 due to stress from the unusual harassment the two O’odham women suffered from the court system. But in Ms. Ortega’s case, attorney Amy Knight was able to successfully argue that there is case law precedent to apply the RFRA to criminal cases, which shifts the burden of proof from the defendant to the government. U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie A. Bowman agreed.
Judge Bowman ruled that the federal government had imposed a “substantial burden” on Ortega’s exercise of her religious faith by closing access to the border road that runs just south of Quitobaquito Springs — an area that remains central to the spiritual practices of the Hia C-ed O’odham. This reversed Bowman’s previous decision on November 18, 2021 when she ruled that the RFRA could not be used as a defense and when she denied consideration of expert witness testimony from elder Lorraine Eiler, a Hia Ced and Tohono O’odham cultural leader who is also a former member of the Tohono O’odham Nation Legislative Council. In the November 18 ruling Judge Bowman had dismissed Eiler’s testimony and ruled Ortega could not prove the government had harmed her free exercise of religion.
Knight was brought in as a new attorney for Ortega after the November 18, 2021 decision and filed a motion to reconsider the ruling and presented new evidence for the RFRA argument at the January 19th hearing. Bowman’s new ruling finds that, “In light of that new evidence, the prosecution of Ortega did impose a substantial burden on the exercise of her religion,” according to the judge. Bowman also ruled that the government had no compelling interest to arrest and prosecute Ortega and that the government failed to use “the least restrictive means” to keep Ortega from halting construction. Based on this, Ortega was ruled not guilty for the charges brought against her.
This victory is not just for Amber Ortega, but is a larger victory for all O’odham peoples and O’odham Him:dag. The victory is especially important for Hia Ced O’odham people who are not currently federally recognized by the U.S. But the ruling is also a major and historical victory for Indigenous religious freedom and Indigenous land and water protectors. Bowman’s decision could provide new defense possibilities for Indigenous land and water protectors who take direct action to protect their sacred sites and spiritual connection to historical places.
“This means so much more than people who are around, it means something for the future,” Ortega said. “This means that those who were shut out of the federal court building in history,” she said, “are still alive, we’re active and fighters. We have a voice, we have a family, we have a tribe.”
“It’s just the beginning of our people continuing to come together on matters we’ve been left out from,” Ortega said.
On September 9, 2020 Ortega and David took direct action and held a prayer ceremony to halt construction of the border wall threatening A’al Vappia/Quitobaquito Springs in Hia- Ced O’odham jeved (O’odham homelands) near Ajo, Arizona. They were arrested and were charged with two petty misdemeanors, “Interfering with federal function” and “violation of a closure order.” Normally these low level charges are resolved with a ticket, not arrest. But in a rare move, the government arrested the O’odham land protectors, without notifying Tohono O’odham Nation. Ortega and David, despite being U.S. citizens and enrolled members of Tohono O’odham Nation, were taken to Core Civic’s for-profit migrant prison in Florence, Arizona – at the time a raging Covid19 hotspot – where they were humiliated, strip searched, denied access to phone calls, attorneys, coronavirus PPE such as masks, and access to basic personal hygiene. They were also forced to endure freezing temperatures, hostility from guards, and sleep deprivation. They were then subject to over a year of government harassment including constant drug testing, threats of re-arrest or institutionalization, and severe restrictions on travel including not being allowed to attend some Indigenous spiritual ceremonies. Due to this harassment David accepted a plea deal in June 2021 that included probation and a fine, however Ortega continued to seek justice for the extreme and unusual treatment the two suffered for holding a spiritual ceremony to protect their sacred site from destruction by the racist border wall.
Despite yesterday’s victorious ruling, we still denounce the settler colonial government for caging Native American sacred site protectors in for-profit immigrant prisons just as we denounce the profiting, incarceration, and torture of migrant peoples crossing O’odham jewed (O’odham homelands). Our Indigenous struggles are interconnected with those of migrants and refugees through resistance to racism, colonialism, and imperialism. We denounce colonial violence against Indigenous women. We denounce the military occupation and border wall destruction of sacred land and water.
Land Protectors Violently Attacked by the Government on Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2020 Receive Verdicts in Ajo, AZ:
Ajo, Arizona – The victory for Ms. Ortega’s case, while a critical cause for celebration, was not free of reminders of state violence and repression against Indigenous peoples and land and water protectors. In Ajo, Arizona on the same date of Ms. Ortega’s ruling two other land and water protectors received fines and community service for their participation in a October 12, 2020 spiritual ceremony and effort to educate the public on the impacts of border violence on O’odham peoples in which they were violently attacked by state forces.
The two individuals, Riley Conklin and David Manual (Tohono O’odham), maintained their innocence but were charged even though ten other people arrested that day had their charges dropped. Conklin and Manual received injuries from being shot at close range by rubber bullets at the action and were arrested by Border Patrol and transported in Border Patrol vehicles to Pima County Jail where they were held without contact to attorneys, family, or in Manual’s case the Tohono O’odham Nation for nearly a day.
We denounce the ongoing state repression against victims of state violence (rubber bullet attacks) against Indigenous peoples and their allies on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We find the court’s decision to prosecute the two people most injured in the state’s attack on the Indigenous Peoples’ Day ceremony racist, offensive, and highly disturbing.
On October 12, 2020 as the Governor of Arizona proclaimed Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a group of about thirty O’odham land and water protectors and their allies held a spiritual ceremony at a border patrol checkpoint on Highway 85 in unceded O’odham homelands to pray for sacred sites and graves demolished by the racist border wall. Border Patrol, Arizona State Troopers, and Department of Public Safety attacked them with tear gas and rubber bullets, hitting at least one O’odham in prayer in the chest with bullets and arresting twelve people. Ten of people had their charges eventually dropped but the two most injured people were prosecuted by the state and sentenced to fines and community service.
The prayer ceremony was attended by O’odham families from all O’odham nations (Hia Ced O’odham, Tohono O’odham, and Akimel O’odham) including children. The ceremony marked Indigenous Peoples’ Day as O’odham continued to face violence from border militarization, including extensive abuses from border patrol against O’odham communities. O’odham sang traditional songs, prayed, and attempted to discuss the Freedom Of Religion Act (1978), that decriminalized Native American religions and opened the path towards the protection of sacred spiritual sites, with members of Border Patrol and Arizona State Troopers and Department of Public Safety present to educate them on the context of Indigenous religious protections.
Border Patrol, State Troopers, and Arizona Department of Public Safety responded with violence to shut down the Indigenous prayer ceremony. Border Patrol, State Troopers, and Arizona Department of Public Safety ordered children and people with vulnerable health who were observing the ceremony from inside their vehicles out of their vehicles (due to Covid19) then tear gassed them. Border Patrol, State Troopers, and Arizona Department of Public Safety then grabbed children who had been in vehicles and abducted them from their parents – stealing children from Indigenous parents for practicing their religion is a clear violation of the Freedom of Religion Act and the Indian Child Welfare Act.
After tear gassing the ceremony and snatching children from their parents Border Patrol, State Troopers, and Arizona Department of Public Safety advanced on the crowd at the ceremony shooting O’odham peoples in prayer with rubber bullets, hitting at least one O’odham man in the chest.
“It’s obscene and offensive to us that local and state governments move to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day while the federal government blows up our sacred sites, steals our kids, militarily occupies our communities, and shoots at Native Americans praying to protect our land and ancestors from desecration. They want to appropriate our cultures but they don’t want us to practice our religions or protect our lands,” said one O’odham woman present at the action.
TEAR DOWN THE BORDER WALL- RESTORE QUITOBAQUITO SPRINGS
O’odham peoples and environmentalists demand that the border wall impacting Monument Hill and Quitobaquito Springs be removed and the land be restored to its original condition and native habitat. The springs, one of the few water sources in the Sonoran Desert, are located in what settlers call, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, on the so-called US/Mexico border. Quitobaquito has provided water to the O’odham people and all forms of life since time immemorial. Water levels in Quitobaquito have dropped 30 percent since 2020 as contractors withdrew large amounts of groundwater to mix concrete for the wall and flatten dirt roads. 84,000 gallons of groundwater per day was used to construct the border wall segments. For every mile of wall 411,840 gallons of extracted water was utilized. The wall construction is a continuation of irreversible cultural and environmental damage seen in the destruction of sacred sites, dividing O’odham in both the so-called US and Mexico, and violently disrupting the desert ecosystem. Border wall construction man camps were a major source of spreading Covid19 to vulnerable O’odham communities during the pandemic. We hold the proponents of racist wall construction responsible for the deaths of O’odham peoples from Covid19 contracted by the disease spread caused by border wall construction man camps. No more death of Indigenous peoples, no more racist walls on Indigenous lands.
Spread the word or contact us for donation information:
Instagram: @OodhamAntiBorder, @DefendOodhamJewed
O’odham Anti Border Collective is a grassroots collective of Akimel O’odham, Tohono O’odham, and Hia Ced O’odham tribal members and descendants committed to the unification of all O’odham peoples, regeneration of O’odham himdag (traditions, spirituality, language, and culture), and the protection of O’odham jewed (homelands) through the dismantling of colonial borders.
Defend O’odham Jewed* is an O’odham u’uwi (women) led grassroots movement and spiritual direct action campaign to protect the sacred O’odham homelands from desecration and violence.
*jewed (sometimes spelled jeved as well) means homelands in the O’odham language
Ox Sam Camp Raid Update: One Arrested as Prayer Tipis Are Bulldozed and Ceremonial Items Confiscated
Thursday, June 8th, 2023
THACKER PASS, NV — On Wednesday morning, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s department on behalf of Lithium Nevada Corporation, raided the Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokutun (Ox Sam Indigenous Women’s Camp), destroying the two ceremonial tipi lodges, mishandling and confiscating ceremonial instruments and objects, and extinguishing the sacred fire that has been lit since May 11th when the Paiute/Shoshone Grandma-led prayer action began.
One arrest took place on Wednesday at the direction of Lithium Nevada security. A young Diné female water protector was handcuffed with no warning and loaded into a windowless, pitch-black box in the back of a pickup truck. “I was really scared for my life,” the woman said. “I didn’t know where I was or where I was going, and I know that MMIW is a real thing and I didn’t want to be the next one.” She was transported to Humboldt County Jail, where she was charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest, then released on bail.
Just hours before the raid, Ox Sam water protectors could be seen for the second time this week bravely standing in the way of large excavation equipment and shutting down construction at the base of Sentinel Rock.
To many Paiute and Shoshone, Sentinel Rock is a “center of the universe,” integral to many Nevada Tribes’ way of life and ceremony, as well as a site for traditional medicines, tools, and food supply for thousands of years. Thacker Pass is also the site of two massacres of Paiute and Shoshone people. The remains of the massacred ancestors have remained unidentified and unburied since 1865, and are now being bulldozed and crushed by Lithium Nevada for a mineral known as “the new white gold.”
Since May 11th, despite numerous requests by Lithium Nevada workers, the Humboldt County Sheriff Department has been reticent and even unwilling to arrest members of the prayer camp, even after issuing three warnings for blocking Pole Creek Road access to Lithium Nevada workers and sub-contractors, while allowing the public to pass through.
“We absolutely respect your guys’ right to peacefully protest,” explained Humboldt County Sheriff Sean Wilkin on May 12th. “We have zero issues with [the tipi] whatsoever… We respect your right to be out here.”
On March 19th the Sheriff arrived again, serving individual fourteen-day Temporary Protection Orders against several individuals at camp. The protection orders were granted by the Humboldt County Court on behalf of Lithium Nevada based on sworn statements loaded with misrepresentations, false claims, and, according to those targeted, outright false accusations by their employees. Still, Ox Sam Camp continued for another week. The tipis, the sacred fire, and the prayers occurred for a total of twenty-seven days of ceremony and resistance.
The scene at Thacker Pass this week looked like Standing Rock, Line 3, or Oak Flat, as Lithium Nevada’s workers and heavy equipment tried to bulldoze and trench their way through the ceremonial grounds surrounding the tipi at Sentinel Rock, and water protectors put their bodies in the way of the destruction, forcing work stoppage on two occasions.
Observers stated that Lithium Nevada’s head of security was directing the Sheriff’s deputies where to go and what to do during the raid.
Lithium Nevada’s ownership and control of Thacker Pass only exists because of the flawed permitting and questionable administrative approvals issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). BLM officials have refused to acknowledge that Peehee Mu’huh is a sacred site to regional Tribal Nations, and have continued to downplay and question the significance of the double massacre through two years of court battles.
Three tribes — the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, and Burns Paiute Tribe — remain locked in litigation with the Federal Government for permitting the mine. The tribes filed their latest response to the BLM’s Motion to Dismiss on Monday. BLM is part of the Department of the Interior which is led by Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo).
On Wednesday, at least five Sheriff’s vehicles, several Lithium Nevada worker vehicles, and two security trucks arrived at the original tipi site that contained the ceremonial fire, immediately adjacent to Pole Creek Road. One camper was arrested without warning, and others were issued with trespass warnings and allowed to leave the area. Once the main camp was secured, law enforcement then moved up to the tipi site at Sentinel Rock, a mile away.
There is a proper way to take down a tipi and ceremonial camp, and then there is the way Humboldt County Sheriffs proceeded on behalf of Lithium Nevada Corporation. Tipis were knocked down, tipi poles were snapped, and ceremonial objects and instruments were rummaged through, mishandled, and impounded. Empty tents were approached and secured in classic SWAT-raid fashion. One car was towed.
As is often the case when lost profits lead to government assaults on peaceful water protectors, Lithium Nevada Corporation and the Humboldt County Sheriffs have begun to claim that the raid was done for the safety of the camp members and for public health.
Josephine Dick (Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone), who is a descendent of Ox Sam and one of the matriarchs of Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokutun, made the following statement in response to the raid:
“As Vice Chair of the Native American Indian Church of the State of Nevada, and as a Paiute-Shoshone Tribal Nation elder and member, I am requesting the immediate access to and release of my ceremonial instruments and objects, including my Eagle Feathers and staff which have held the prayers of my ancestors and the Ox Sam camp since the beginning. There was also a ceremonial hand drum and medicines such as cedar and tobacco, which are protected by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
In addition, my understanding is that Humboldt County Sherriffs along with Lithium Nevada security desecrated two ceremonial tipi lodges, which include canvasses, poles, and ropes. The Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokutun has been conducting prayers and ceremony in these tipis which are also protected by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. When our ceremonial belongings are brought together around the sacred fire, this is our church. Our Native American church is a sacred ceremony. I am demanding the immediate access to our prayer site at Peehee Mu’huh and the return of our confiscated ceremonial objects.
The desecration that Humboldt County Sherriffs and Lithium Nevada conducted by knocking the tipis down and rummaging through sacred objects is equivalent to taking a bible, breaking The Cross, knocking down a cathedral, disrespecting the sacrament, and denying deacons and pastors access to their places of worship, in direct violation of my American Indian Religious Freedom rights. This violation of access to our ceremonial church and the ground on which it sits is a violation of Executive Order 13007.
The location of the tipi lodge that was pushed over and destroyed is at the base of Sentinel Rock, a place our Paiute-Shoshone have been praying since time immemorial. After two years of our people explaining that Peehee Mu’huh is sacred, BLM Winnemucca finally acknowledged that Thacker Pass is a Traditional Cultural District, but they are still allowing it to be destroyed.”
Josephine and others plan to make a statement on live stream outside the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office in Winnemucca on the afternoon of Friday, June 9th around 1pm.
Another spiritual leader on the front lines has been Dean Barlese from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Barlese led prayers at the site on April 25th which led to Lithium Nevada shutting down construction for a day, and returned on May 11th to pray over the new sacred fire as Ox Sam camp was established.
“This is not a protest, it’s a prayer,” said Barlese. “But they’re still scared of me. They’re scared of all of us elders, because they know we’re right and they’re wrong.”
Thacker Pass is located in northern Nevada near the Oregon border, where Lithium Nevada Corporation is in the first phase of building a $2 billion open-pit lithium mine which would be the largest of its kind in North America. The lithium is mainly destined for General Motors Corporation’s electric car batteries, which the corporation laughably claims is “green.” Mine opponents call this greenwashing and have stated that “it’s not green to blow up a mountain.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has granted Lithium Nevada corporation and all other business corporations a whole variety of constitutional “rights” that were never meant for business entities. Without these special so-called corporate “rights,” the mine owners would never have been allowed to construct this mine.
Three Native American tribes filed a new lawsuit against the Federal Government over Lithium Nevada Corporation’s planned Thacker Pass lithium mine on February 16, 2023, the latest legal move in the two-and-a-half-year struggle over mining, greenwashing, and sacred land in northern Nevada.
The Tribes notified the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on May 19th that they mean to appeal their Motion seeking a Preliminary Injunction which was rejected by a lower court in early March. Four environmental groups which lost their case in January have also appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and are expected to be heard in June.
Ox Sam Camp Update: Land Defenders Arrested, Camp Raided After Blocking Excavator
From www.oxsam.org (follow for more updates).
Read the new press release from 6/8/23 here: https://www.indigenousaction.org/ox-sam-camp-raid-update-one-arrested-as-prayer-tipis-are-bulldozed-and-ceremonial-items-confiscated/
First arrests are underway and camp is being raided after land defenders halted an excavator this morning at Thacker Pass.
OROVADA, NV — This morning, a group of Native American water protectors and allies used their bodies to non-violently block construction of the controversial Thacker Pass lithium mine in Nevada, turning back bulldozers and heavy equipment.
The dramatic scene unfolded this morning as workers attempting to dig trenches near Sentinel Rock were turned back by land defenders who ran and put their bodies between heavy equipment and the land.
Now they are being arrested and camp is being raided.
Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone people consider Thacker Pass to be sacred. So when they learned that the area was slated to become the biggest open-pit lithium mine in North America, they filed lawsuits, organized rallies, spoke at regulatory hearings, and organized in the community. But despite all efforts over the last three years, construction of the mine began in March.
That’s what led Native American elders, friends and family, water protectors, and their allies to establish what they call a “prayer camp and ceremonial fire” at Thacker Pass on May 11th, when they setup a tipi at dawn blocking construction of a water pipeline for the mine. A second tipi was erected several days later two miles east, where Lithium Nevada’s construction is defacing Sentinel Rock, one of their most important sacred sites.
Sentinel Rock is integral to many Nevada Tribes’ worldview and ceremony. The area was the site of two massacres of Paiute and Shoshone people. The first was an inter-tribal conflict that gave the area it’s Paiute name: Peehee Mu’huh, or rotten moon. The second was a surprise attack by the US Cavalry on September 12th, 1865, during which the US Army slaughtered dozens. One of the only survivors of the attack was a man named Ox Sam. It is some of Ox Sam’s descendants, the Grandmas, that formed Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokotun (Indigenous Women’s Camp) to protect this sacred land for the unborn, to honor and protect the remains of their ancestors, and to conduct ceremonies. Water protectors have been on-site in prayer for nearly a month.
On Monday, Lithium Nevada Corporation also attempted to breach the space occupied by the water protectors. As workers maneuvered trenching equipment into a valley between the two tipis, water protectors approached the attempted work site and peacefully forced workers and their excavator to back up and leave the area. According to one anonymous land defender, Lithium Nevada’s action was “an attempted show of force to fully do away with our tipi and prayer camp around Sentinel Rock.”
Ranchers, recreationists, and members of the public have been allowed to pass without incident and water protectors maintain friendly relationships with locals. Opposition to the mine is widespread in the area, and despite repeated warnings from the local Sheriff, there have been no arrests. Four people, including Dorece Sam Antonio of the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe (an Ox sam descendant) and Max Wilbert of Protect Thacker Pass, have been targeted by court orders barring them from the area. They await a court hearing in Humboldt County Justice Court.
“Lithium Nevada is fencing around the sacred site Sentinel Rock to disrupt our access and yesterday was an escalation to justify removal of our peaceful prayer camps,” said one anonymous water protector at Ox Sam Camp. “Lithium Nevada intends to desecrate and bulldoze the remains of the ancestors here. We are calling out to all water protectors, land defenders, attorneys, human rights experts, and representatives of Tribal Nations to come and stand with us.”
“I’m being threatened with arrest for protecting the graves of my ancestors,” says Dorece Sam Antonio. “My great-great Grandfather Ox Sam was one of the survivors of the 1865 Thacker Pass massacre that took place here. His family was killed right here as they ran away from the U.S. Army. They were never buried. They’re still here. And now these bulldozers are tearing up this place.”
Another spiritual leader on the front lines has been Dean Barlese, a spiritual leader from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Barlese led prayers at the site on April 25th (shutting down construction for a day) and returned on May 11th.
“I’m asking people to come to Peehee Mu’huh,” Barlese said. “We need more prayerful people. I’m here because I have connections to these places. My great-great-great grandfathers fought and shed blood in these lands. We’re defending the sacred. Water is sacred. Without water, there is no life. And one day, you’ll find out you can’t eat money.”
The 1865 Thacker Pass massacre is well documented in historical sources, books, newspapers, and oral histories. Despite the evidence but unsurprisingly, the Federal Government has not protected Thacker Pass or even slowed construction of the mine to allow for consultation to take place with Tribes. In late February, the Federal Government recognized tribal arguments that Thacker Pass is a “Traditional Cultural District” eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. But that didn’t stop construction from commencing.
“This is not a protest, it’s a prayer,” said Barlese. “But they’re still scared of me. They’re scared of all of us elders, because they know we’re right and they’re wrong.”
People Take the Streets in Occupied Flagstaff to “Honor & Avenge” #MMIWG2ST
Brief report back filed by anonymous.
Occupied Kinłani, May 5, 2023 — Tonight a fierce crew held a vigil and rally then took to the streets of occupied Flagstaff on the national day of awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit, and trans relatives. Family members and friends of Arielisa Bryant & Nicole Joe spoke about the injustices they had faced at the hands of law enforcement. Others shared their stories with five families speaking out about their missing or murdered relatives. Speakers connected the desecration of sacred sites as violence against the land being violence against our bodies. After a moment of silence (which was turned into a moment of rage), the group headed through the crowded streets. Intersections were held. A round dance was done. Chants echoed, “No More Stolen Sisters!” “No Justice No Peace, Fuck the Police!” and “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe!” while relatives of MMIWG2ST spoke. At one point the group stopped near where Vanessa Lee was found (2018) and created a memorial. After the action, the massive red dress banner that was carried through the streets was dropped.
This action came as U.S. Secretary of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland prepares to hold a “Not Invisible Act Commission” hearing in Flagstaff on May 9th at a so far unannounced location with little community outreach. The commission is filled with cops, judges, and politicians who seek to further colonial policing and laws over Indigenous lands. Haaland is also complicit in allowing the Willow Project to proceed which furthers resource colonial violence that is directly linked to #MMIWG2ST.
That study reported a total of 506 known cases in 71 urban cities across the country and 54 cases were identified in Arizona.
Ariel Bryant, found deceased 2019 outside of Kinłani.
Vanessa Lee, found deceased 2018 in the Rio De Flag downtown Kinłani.
Nicole Joe, deceased on christmas day 2017, her ex was ultimately found guilty of second degree murder.
Loreal Tsingine, shot in 2016 five times by Winslow police officer Austin Shipley.
And all those missing and murdered relatives!
As you rest in power, we will rage!
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