S3, Ep. 17: Religious freedom and our Indigenous neighbors: Save Oak Flat

Respecting Religion

May 19 2022 • 40 mins


Imagine your house of worship is facing destruction and your elected officials could stop it, but they were more concerned with how others view your sacred space. That’s the scenario facing the San Carlos Apache and other tribes in their fight to preserve their sacred land of Chí’chil Biłdagoteel, loosely translated in English as “Oak Flat.” In this podcast, learn more about this issue facing our Indigenous neighbors and how you can use your position to make a difference and save sacred land. Just because a religious group doesn’t build a steeple, it doesn’t mean the sacredness of the land is any less than a church or mosque or other worship site.

Show notes:

Segment 1: Land use and religious freedom (segments starts at 01:12)

RLUIPA is an acronym for the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which became law in 2000.

Starting at 12:17, we played audio of congressional testimony from Naelyn Pike, a youth Apache Leader. She gave this testimony on March 12, 2020, during a hearing of the Subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples of the United States in the U.S. House of Representatives. You can watch the entire hearing at this link, and her testimony begins at 8:21 in that video.

Segment 2: How did we get here? Sweetheart deals in the NDAA (starting at 18:03)

NDAA stands for the “National Defense Authorization Act,” which is the bill that authorizes the annual budget and expenditures of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Save Oak Flat Act is H.R. 1884/S. 915.

Learn more about Chí’chil Biłdagoteel and the Save Oak Flat Act, including social media posts you can share, at BJConline.org/SaveOakFlat. The individual petition you can sign will be linked on that page in the near future.

Read the letter from more than 100 religious and religious freedom groups sent to Congress asking to Save Oak Flat.

If you would like to contact your members of Congress about co-sponsoring the Save Oak Flat Act, here is a sample script you can use:

Hello, my name is [Name]. I am a constituent and am calling to ask Representative/Senator [Name] to co-sponsor the Save Oak Flat Act. Oak Flat is an ancient sacred site for the Apache and several other tribes in the Southwest. The federal government is giving the land to a foreign mining operation that will totally destroy this holy ground. Oak Flat’s sacredness is not lessened because their tradition does not build a steeple to mark it. Will Rep./Sen. [Name] co-sponsor the Save Oak Flat Act?

Not sure who your members of Congress are? Click here to find out.

Segment 3: What can you do to Save Oak Flat? (starting at 34:18)

See a list of 18 ways you can advocate for Oak Flat in this piece by BJC Associate General Counsel Jennifer Hawks on Medium: Celebrate Earth Day 2022 by protecting Oak Flat

Learn more about the Oak Flat Challenge in this article on Medium: What does 1.8 have to do with faith freedom for all?

See examples of the Oak Flat Challenge on Facebook here and in our Instagram highlight here.

Hear from Indigenous voices on faith freedom this summer in Dallas at our BJC Luncheon. On Thursday, June 30, we’ll be at the Hyatt Regency Dallas, and you can learn more and purchase a ticket at BJConline.org/Luncheon.

Plus, we’ll be doing a live recording of the Respecting Religion podcast on June 29 during our workshop at the CBF General Assembly. There is no cost to attend the assembly in Dallas – learn more at this link.

As always, you can contact Amanda and Holly by writing to RespectingReligion@BJConline.org.

Respecting Religion is made possible by BJC’s generous donors. You can support these conversations with a gift to BJC.