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.)
In Oak Flat, Lauren Redniss has produced a supernova: a dazzling blend of deep reporting, sublime illustration, haunting dialogue, and descriptive writing that has the crystalline precision of a prose poem. In conveying the story of the ongoing clash over a patch of southeastern Arizona—site of priceless copper deposits, but also sacred Apache land—Redniss weaves together physics, history, geology, legislative chicanery, intimate portraiture, and tribal custom and culture into a vivid, searing, indelible act of witness.”—Patrick Radden Keefe, New York Times bestselling author of Say Nothing
“Oak Flat left me stunned. History, testimony, art, landscape: Lauren Redniss weaves these elements together to evoke the rock and sand and sky of the Arizona desert, and to bring to life the story of the people for whom that land is sacred. Rarely is a book simultaneously so heartfelt and so brilliant.”—David Treuer, New York Times bestselling author of The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee
“Lauren Redniss’s Oak Flat unfolds and unfolds, moving swiftly and seamlessly from the cosmological to the geological to the intimate regions of the human heart. It tackles a painful, important subject with grace, rendering everyone and everything it investigates with uncommon intimacy, curiosity, and dignity.”—Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts
“Blending journalism, politics, poetry, and art is a literary high-wire act. Lauren Redniss is one of the few artists who can do it. Oak Flat is a bewitching and mesmerizing book.”—Marjane Satrapi, author of Persepolis
“Gorgeous, devastating, and hopeful . . . 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.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Artistically and thematically profound . . . [Redniss] has a scope that extends well beyond the conventional limits of the graphic novel. Here, she frames her provocative narrative with artistry that evokes the awe and wonder of Native origin stories and the timelessness of eternity. . . . As a work of advocacy, the book is compelling and convincing; as a work of art, it is masterful.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
With this follow-up to her acclaimed Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future, Redniss continues to explore narrative and visual nonfiction in a work about Oak Flat, AZ, an ancient Apache burial ground and religious site. Redniss effectively chronicles Apache resistance to a cooper mining company interested in Oak Flat, and dedicated conservationists who provided additional support. The author interviewed Apache who perform religious ceremonies at Oak Flat, including the Sunrise Ceremony, a coming-of-age rite for young girls. She also interviewed Apache who work for the mining company, and are optimistic about the mine's and the community's future. Interspersed throughout are the author's drawings, which add additional personal touches to both the landscape and the people. Besides personal histories and narratives, the book also delves into the history of Arizona mining; the sovereignty of Native tribes; and the historical trauma as a result of ongoing efforts of colonization, including the systematic "re-education" of Native children. VERDICT As the fight to prevent the mine from operating continues to be litigated, works like this will continue to enrage and enchant readers of environmental underdog stories; this will be a helpful starting point for all interested in environmental justice. [See Prepub Alert, 9/23/19.]—Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville Lib., IN
This artistically and thematically profound account of a controversial mining initiative on land that the Apaches of Arizona consider sacred suggests a culture clash of irreconcilable differences.
As she has demonstrated in previous books, MacArthur fellow Redniss (Illustration/Parsons School of Design; Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present and Future, 2015, etc.) has a scope that extends well beyond the conventional limits of the graphic novel. Here, she frames her provocative narrative with artistry that evokes the awe and wonder of Native origin stories and the timelessness of eternity. Against this majestic artistic backdrop, Redniss chronicles the machinations of a mining company boasting massive profits as they battle the Natives of the region, who "consider themselves to be at war with the United States." As one activist notes, "we were kicked out of these holy places. The Apache religion survived…with the hope of returning one day to the ancestral homelands. There was always that prophecy: that the final fight between the Apache and America would be for our religion." On one side are jobs and millions of dollars, though within the context that mining operations have an expiration date, in this case likely four decades, and that the Arizona landscape is littered with ghost towns, examples of what happens after the boom goes bust. On the other side are ancient spiritual values and traditions that long predate the intrusion of white settlers and their mistreatment of those who had preceded them. Amid the gorgeous illustrations, Redniss provides plenty of historical context about how the American government has violated its own agreements with those tribes—and how it continues to do so. Yet the author refuses to oversimplify, giving voice to those who feel that standing in the way of progress simply perpetuates so many of the problems endemic to communities who have suffered such abuse.
As a work of advocacy, the book is compelling and convincing; as a work of art, it is masterful.