cover image Oak Flat

Oak Flat

Lauren Redniss. Random House, $30 (288p) ISBN 978-0-399-58972-0

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. (Apr.)