Substantial Burden

Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff, AZ, 2022

Materials: Natural local clay, quaking aspen pole, cottonwood leaf gilded with copper leaf, ceramic bowl of acorns

On June 28, 2022, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that the site known by the Apache as Chi'chil Bildagoteel or Oak Flat was "sacred ground." But it also said tribal religious beliefs as set out in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or the First Amendment's protection of the freedom to practice religion were not sufficient to overturn the land swap between the U.S. Forest Service and the British-Australian company, Rio Tinto and BHP.

In addition, the court said that the exchange would not "substantially burden" Apache religious practices and referred to previous decisons by the court, such as the Navajo Nation's lawsuit to prevent the use of partially treated effluent to make snow on the San Francisco Peaks, which they also said did not impose a substantial burden on Native religious practices. 

If the complete destruction of a place of worship does not qualify as a "substantial burden" to a people and their religious and cultural practices, then what the court is logically saying is that all places, be they churches, temples, mosques or sacred places and landscapes also no longer qualify for protection. The Earth and all bodies are under threat by this hegemony that wants to literally destroy life beneath the sierra sin agua.