- Expected Nov 17, 2020
A powerful work of visual nonfiction about three generations of an Apache family struggling to protect sacred land from a multinational mining corporation, by MacArthur “Genius” and National Book Award finalist Lauren Redniss, the acclaimed author of Thunder & Lightning.
“Lauren Redniss has produced a supernova. . . . A vivid, searing, indelible act of witness.”—Patrick Radden Keefe, New York Times bestselling author of Say Nothing
Oak Flat is a serene high-elevation mesa that sits above the southeastern Arizona desert, fifteen miles to the west of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. For the San Carlos tribe, Oak Flat is a holy place, an ancient burial ground and religious site where Apache girls celebrate the coming-of-age ritual known as the Sunrise Ceremony. In 1995, a massive untapped copper reserve was discovered nearby. A decade later, a law was passed transferring the area to a private company, whose planned copper mine will wipe Oak Flat off the map—sending its natural springs, petroglyph-covered rocks, and old-growth trees tumbling into a void.
Redniss’s deep reporting and haunting artwork anchor this mesmerizing human narrative. Oak Flat tells the story of a race-against-time struggle for a swath of American land, which pits one of the poorest communities in the United States against the federal government and two of the world’s largest mining conglomerates. The book follows the fortunes of two families with profound connections to the contested site: the Nosies, an Apache family whose teenage daughter is an activist and leader in the Oak Flat fight, and the Gorhams, a mining family whose patriarch was a sheriff in the lawless early days of Arizona statehood.
The still-unresolved Oak Flat conflict is ripped from today’s headlines, but its story resonates with foundational American themes: the saga of westward expansion, the resistance and resilience of Native peoples, and the efforts of profiteers to control the land and unearth treasure beneath it while the lives of individuals hang in the balance.
MacArthur "genius grant" recipient Redniss (Thunder and Lightning) combines drawings with reportage and oral history to tell the story of America's decimation of indigenous people and culture in this gorgeous, devastating, and hopeful ethnographic account. Oak Flat, a sacred Apache site in Arizona's "Copper Corridor" is the subject of a years-long legal battle, beginning in the early 2000s, between the Resolution Copper mining company and an underresourced coalition of Apaches and conservationists. The hero of this far-reaching epic is Naelyn Pike, an Apache teen who testifies to Congress and provides an eloquent account of her Sunrise Dance, a complex coming-of-age ritual for young Apache women. Redniss also interviews miners and non-Native longtime residents of poverty-stricken Superior, Ariz., to reveal that only outsiders are getting rich in the mining scheme. She also documents the long legal war that the U.S. has waged against Native American territories, including the Supreme Court's 1823 ruling in Johnson v. McIntosh that " principles of abstract justice' could not be factored" into decisions about Native land. Redniss's glowing colored-pencil illustrations capture the surreal magic of Southwestern landscapes: from a green-eyed ocelot, to the nearly empty Main Street in Superior. The future of Oak Flat and other sacred sites remains precarious, but Redniss effectively conveys the importance of these grounds and delivers a respectful and powerful portrait of people who are down but refuse to be counted out.