“Dear Mr. President …”
So begins a recent letter addressed to President Biden, who rose to the highest office in the land by promising a reprieve from the cruelty, indignity and heartless economics that dominated the Trump administration.
Despite campaign promises and golden visions of a nation free of “malarkey,” this letter pleads for the basic respect and support of the federal government in protecting the religious rights of the Indigenous peoples of North America.
Signed by over 50 religious organizations from all walks of faith, the letter, dated July 20, calls for the protection and recognition of Chi’chil Bildagoteel (“Oak Flat”) as a sacred landmark. You can read the full letter here.
Good Faith Media CEO Mitch Randall voiced support of the religious organizations and tribes push for recognition, stating, “Native Americans have historically held ancestral lands as sacred. Disturbing those lands for the purpose of economic development dehumanizes Indigenous communities, elevating profits over people.
“The United States of America would never consider developing Gettysburg or Concord,” he said. “Therefore, I applaud faith leaders in their attempt to save Indigenous lands on the grounds of religious freedom.”
The region in question lies in the Tonto National Forest just outside Phoenix and holds deep spiritual significance for the many Indigenous tribes in the area.
Chi’chil Bildagoteel sits upon a deposit of copper that mining companies have lusted after for over a decade.
Amid the chaos of the days following the insurrection at the Capitol, while all eyes focused on Washington, D.C., the Trump administration released the environmental impact statement filing, which set into motion the authorization of the Resolution Copper Project, a joint project of Rio Tinto and BHP, to mine on the land.
This final-hour move by then President Trump to inflict one last blow on a people he has no sympathy or appreciation for was halted by the newly appointed Biden administration on March 1, but many still fear another authorization will be passed before the year ends.
The letter calls for the land to be recognized and preserved on the grounds of religious protections.
The issue raises many questions, most notably: Does the federal government see the religions of the Indigenous peoples of North America to be as valid as those of the Christ-worshiping colonizers? And for how long must the non-white cultures and peoples of the nation be forced to advocate for their own existence?
One must wonder what the discussion would be if a deposit of copper was found beneath Plymouth Rock where the Puritan settlers first envisioned their “city on a hill,” built to spawn a new holy land in the service of their God.
As stated in the July 20 letter, Chi’chil Bildagoteel is the ancestral homeland of the Apache, Yavapai, Hopi, Zuni and other native tribes in the Southwest region of the country.
While the mechanisms of industry seek to exploit the region in the name of an economic imperative, reducing the soil, minerals, trees and living inhabitants into a dollar sign and a map plot, the native peoples that call the land home have maintained a harmonious relationship with the land for centuries.
As seen with the geopolitical maneuvering of the Trump administration’s proclamation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the federal government is not exempt from acting in the interests of the faith.
Undoubtedly, Trump’s actions were mere posturing, set to gain the favor of a voting electorate.
The question now is this: Will President Biden repay the debt he owes to the voters of Tonto National Forest, who helped push him to victory in the razor-edge Arizona presidential race?
Now is the time to make right on the promises made to act in good faith and liberty.
The president must recognize that words alone cannot turn the tide. There is no excuse for ignorance or complacency in this matter, as the land is a federally recognized forest, and all drilling must be approved by the federal government.
President Biden would not simply be allowing mining to take place, he would be directly authorizing the destruction of a religious landmark.
Should Chi’chil Bildagoteel be destroyed, it would be yet another notch in the long and bloody history of Indigenous persecution and cultural genocide that has eroded and undermined the supposed liberties and freedoms the country was built upon.
To enact this destruction so soon after the pandemic, which ravaged Native American communities, would be especially cruel.
It is difficult to grasp how the federal government can expect non-European-descended communities to develop when every set of economic logics, every federal department and every institution is crafted and operated in a manner that refuses to recognize their beliefs, lifestyles, history and culture to be as valid and worthy of protection as that of the white folks.
An undergraduate student at Emerson College pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, he was an Ernst C. Hynds Jr. intern with Good Faith Media for the summer of 2021.