The serene Oak Flat upland lies in the heart of Arizona. With its beautiful peaks and forest, it is a beloved spot for campers, hikers and rock climbers. Above all, it is the centre of the San Carlos Apache tribe’s religion, a place of devotion where their gods dwell and they still perform traditional ceremonies.
But it is now at the centre of a dispute between the tribe and FTSE 100 giant Rio Tinto. It is also shaping up to be an acid test of the mining group’s claims that it is determined to respect sacred sites.
Wendsler Nosie Sr of the Apache Stronghold – a coalition of Apaches and non-Apache supporters that is bringing the case – describes it as the ‘most sacred site where we connect with our creator, our faith, our families and our land’.
He says: ‘It is a place of healing that has been sacred to us since long before Europeans arrived on this continent.’ Members of the tribe, which was famously guided by Geronimo in the 19th Century, have referred to it as their equivalent to Mount Sinai and describe rock paintings and carvings as the footprints and spirit of their ancestors.