Poor People's Campaign
Photo credit: Steve Pavey

Wendsler Nosie Sr., San Carlos Apache Tribe

Wendsler Nosie Sr. was born on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, in Gila County, in San Carlos, Arizona in 1959. He is a former Chairman and Councilman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and a long time opponent of Southeast Arizona Land Exchange. He is currently living at the Apache sacred site of Oak Flat (Chi’chil Bildagoteel) to defend it from a land transfer to the mining company, Resolution Copper. For more information visit: http://www.apache-stronghold.com/

I am descended from the Chiricahua Apaches from the southern rim of the mountains of Arizona on my father’s side. My mother is a Yavapai Apache, from the rim of the northeast of Arizona’s mountains. My grandfather, my great grandfathers and grandmothers were all brought to the San Carlos Apache reservation in southeastern Arizona as prisoners of war. This is where I was born.

At the time when the United States military came into what is now Arizona, the Yavapai people, in resistance to the military’s attempt to remove them, killed two individuals that came from prominent families back east. So the military really came after the Yavapais as well and brought them here to San Carlos as prisoners of war.

 San Carlos is really a unique reservation because we hold 15 different types of Apaches and within the 15 types of Apache we go into our clans. At the time when the United States military came into what is now Arizona, the Yavapai people, in resistance to the military’s attempt to remove them, killed two individuals that came from prominent families back east. So the military really came after the Yavapais, as well as many of the other Apaches who were brought to San Carlos as prisoners of war. Other people were brought here as well, but not in great numbers. San Carlos has its own beauty and its own uniqueness but it was not where we originated from.

I was one of these kids that asked a lot of questions. When I was growing up there were only two channels on the television and what I saw, in terms of the marketing, the shows and the advertisements, made me wonder why the things I saw didn’t apply to me. My upbringing was about really trying to understand this, all the while hearing whispers of what had happened to our people and the things that were promised to us.

I grew up really confused at the beginning – there was an initiative to push us one way but we actually came from another way. You’ve got to imagine just somebody coming in and putting a wall up and now the river which flows in one direction no longer flows that way because there’s a wall now that prevents you from flowing in that direction. So now you’re more idling than anything because you don’t understand the way which brought in capitalism – What is this life? What is being mandated on us?

Now we understand it: It’s a corporate life that we live in today.

We’re born into this world Ndee which means ‘the people’ but we’re known as the Apaches. We’re born into this world but we’re only free at the time we come out of our mothers, and again when we die. That’s when we’re finally free again to be who God made us to be.

From a young age I was already preaching to the rest of my people here in San Carlos that we really needed to come back and to re-strengthen the connection that we have with Mother Earth, and with ourselves, before we can go anywhere or impact anything. It really started from there. When I look back on my life I’m just grateful that the religious part and the identity part of who we were prior to reservation life is what I really held sacred.

It is very important that we go back to the founding of this country. In the beginning of everything we do, we go to the important things that God created to make sure we understand the world we live in.  I sit back and wonder how I get across to the people of the country to understand what they’re not understanding. When you come to the words assimilation, colonization, capitalism, these have had a great impact on the American way of life.  Those are strong elements that really force a person or a group to change.

We go back to the rattlesnake.  The rattlesnake, for those that know, has coils at the end of the rattles.  When we look at the last coil, that is like here in America.  That points out the southern part of America which is where I live in Arizona.  What I mean, what we mean by that is that it’s the last place of this so called conquering, capitalism.  We sit in that last coil and look at the whole world, how it evolved itself to be here.

So we speak from what we see.

In the prophecy it talks about the rattle, when it shakes, it is a warning.  What we know in our holy places here, the holy places are rumbling at what is happening in the world and in the country.  But the prophecy goes on to say that one day it is not going to rumble anymore.  When that day comes, that means we have destroyed everything.

What frightens us as native people is we’re seeing the rattlesnake begin to grow without rattles.  A lot of that is from the environmental impacts that are going on in the country. Many things are changing, and what is happening is that we’re losing focus on what is really happening around us because our minds have been trained elsewhere. 

Of the whole entire misunderstanding about life, it’s not that the people don’t have knowledge, it’s that it was taken away from them.  And that created a new type of people.  So that is what scares us the most. 

What I see is that people don’t understand colonization. Colonization comes from capitalism so it puts us in a corporate way of life. It takes away all the family values. It takes away everything from you. As Indian people we see it, because our family base, our children, those things that we bring into the world, those decisions that we need to make for them, are one of the most important things to us.  It is the same concept with Mother Earth. Mother Earth does the same thing to keep things going for us, to take care of us. So we’re all intertwined together.

What the corporate world does is take that apart. And then it starts to eliminate things, to where you don’t have the strength of that intertwine with Mother Earth anymore, which makes up what’s holy, what makes up the way we’re supposed to be, and takes care of things.

Every day in the morning we get up and, with my grandkids and kids, we say Shima – what that means in Apache is, to the mother: ‘It’s good to see you again.’ The reason why we say that is because it reminds us who feeds us and takes care of us.  It reminds us what a mother does.  When I go around the country, I hear none of that. It is scary because it creates a disconnection to what is the most valuable thing in the world.

There are some kids in the city and towns that never leave the city and towns. Just like how on the reservation, a lot of us never leave the reservation. We only go once in a while to the big city or to the town. When I ask kids from the city or town basic questions about water, for example, they all think it comes from the faucet or they all think it comes from a big lake and they don’t realize where water comes from. That’s the corporate world teaching them that these things are important for you to get water, but not teaching them where water actually comes from.

In this country, we’re being given another opportunity to rebuild the foundation but we have to go back to the first chapter. Because if you teach the children right, the children will work together and change. As long as we teach them that the corporate mentality is the answer to the problem, then the problem is never going to be solved.

Photo credit: Steve Pavey

Where we live in Arizona we see copper mines that are de-watering the earth. They’re destroying aquifers, they’re destroying spring waters and the people in the Phoenix area don’t even realize that these mines are cutting off life. Sustainability is not being implemented. Being that last coil of the rattlesnake, you see all of that.

What we say here is in Apache there is a word and it is shi’kí’ so when the first people came from Europe and migrated here to North America, the only word we had was they were our relatives, brothers and sisters.  There was no discrimination.  These people needed help to survive here.  The thing about it, the conqueror never wants to write the true history.  They came here in small numbers.  If we wanted to do something bad, we could have.  Because they were people who were lost and didn’t have knowledge about the earth.

But it’s what came across that travel here, that corporate mentality, that is destroying the world. In our first encounters with these people, the thing they were looking for was gold.  It was about what they could take.  When they found the value of the country, things turned and that is where all the American history starts, with the 13 colonies in the east and how it migrated towards us. We’ve seen that and within that we’ve seen a lot of death and a lot of change.

When native people talk about decolonizing, you know everybody has to become decolonized. Everybody has to wake up to what is happening. White people are the oldest people that are colonized, then the rest of us we come after that. We’re all blind from being colonized.

White people have been in this longer than we have, they just were given a piece of the pie to shut up, the way it’s done to every one of us. As long as we take that pie from capitalism then we shut up, because we’re munching on it too. But if we can push it back, then decolonization will begin to transform us which brings us back to why it’s so important that people understand what the earth does for all of us. 

A lot of people go into a shame mode, go into seclusion, go into a shell because they’re a part of what happened. That’s part of why I’m saying that it’s so important that America goes back to the first chapter of how all these things were established. I see the white people as being ready to decolonize but they need a leader to teach them what decolonization is.

What we face today when we look at the whole picture is we look at how the owners of the country are against the poor of the country. Because of this evil, they have no feelings towards what is happening because it is all about ownership.  That is what we experienced from them taking and taking and taking.  And then today they ignore the whole conversation. If you’re disconnected – who does it accommodate?  Capitalism, that way of life versus the people who are suffering. 

It’s like we’re living underneath the carpet. As long as we’re out of sight and out of mind then the United States will never feel like they stole the land or acknowledge what they did in the very beginning of the first chapter of this country. They would never have to go back there as long as they can keep us out. So you see all these discussions going on in the country but you never really hear about us. As long as we’re kept out of mind, out of sight, then this country moves forward without a solid base, without a solid foundation.

We’re running out of everything. We’re running out of water. We’re running out of the land base. Copper mines and corporations are buying land everywhere. Nobody’s not even monitoring it. You know why? Because they supply the state, the government, the financial sector to keep doing what they’re doing. In the meantime, one day we wake up and there’s nothing left.

I want to build a foundation that is a true foundation. To do that we need to understand why we’re all here today, why we call this America, why these things happened to us. We were people who were just trying to defend what was God’s gift to the world. What we’re here for is to be intertwined with the greatest things that this Mother Earth gives us. One of the most important things that this country needs to understand is that the environment is spiritual and it intertwines with everything we do. If we destroy the mother, we destroy ourselves and everything else.  

Those people who were suffering from all the ugliness in Europe were brought here by a spirit for healing, for a new chapter, a new way. That is the foundation the country should have been built on.  From that point, it would have been an example throughout the rest of the world. But that is not what happened.  

Now we have an opportunity for the country to develop a new narrative, to really look at how colonization and capitalism work and be honest about it.  Now that we know that history, we need to fix it. All people have a religion, no matter what it is, and that is where they need to come to the point of understanding that we’re all brothers and sisters and we can fix this.  If we go back to the blessed gift, the blessed gift gives that opportunity.  If we work away from it, we don’t hear it.  I go back to the rattlesnake, we are that last coil, we see the good and bad of where our body has gone. But now it’s time to make the right decisions.

Last November (2019) I went to the U S Forest Service, the main agency that oversees all federal land in the United States. I met with the top officials and I gave them a letter that told them that I am vacating San Carlos reservation and I’m going back to Oak Flat (Chi’chil Bildagoteel), a sacred place that our people were forcefully removed from under the United States. I denounced all their negligence and the pending land transfer to the mining company, Resolution Copper.

So in November I left the reservation, I walked back the way they had brought in my family, forcefully, on foot, and I moved back to my ancestral homeland of Oak Flat. That’s where I reside today.

It just takes our senators to revisit this project to stop the land transfer and assure the American people that the environmental impact laws will apply. But they’re not gonna do it because you’ll find that their campaign donations are coming from Resolution Copper. And on top of that, Resolution Copper is in these counties providing school supplies and scholarships to quiet everybody.

We lose these kinds of battles all over this country because of that. And people wonder why Indian country cries all the time. Why are we crying? Why are we so frustrated?

For us, these people came here, said follow these laws, and they’re the first ones to break them. It blows me away how they’re real loyal to their political party and then they’re real loyal to the American flag. If you look at those entities and you look at their foundation, it has a lot of blood on it. And how can you be loyal to that?

The only loyalty I have is to what God gave the world. It’s what God gave us – that’s where our loyalty should be. It is so true there has to be a new narrative, a new birth.  What we call healing. We have to look at ourselves.  If we don’t, how are you going to heal?  You can’t look at people and prescribe the antidote.  You have to look at yourself.  Each person has to look at themselves and heal.

That’s why I’m really grateful to the Poor People’s Campaign because they’ve given us the opportunity to speak and be heard. I can sense it that some can comprehend what I’m saying and some can’t. And I know we have to look deep down in our souls every one of us. We have to look down because sometimes what we may have been taught may not have been truthful and we have to learn how to let that go.

I’m in prayer right now for Oak Flat because they’re gonna kill this place that is holy, that has all the medicine plants, and is where God touched the earth. Us human beings are gonna kill it and we’re gonna all eat from it, whether that be financially or the materials that are gonna be taken from it. It’s just like putting the arm, the legs, the organs and sending them all out to different places.

As long as we’re left out, it will never be part of the equation of how we can heal and fix this place. Experts get their degrees, but for us, you know, it’s a degree that has been passed on from generation to generation to generation about how the earth works, how the mother works.  We can help design and plan where we should go if we’re going to maintain  sustainability on everything that we have left.