What did you do during your high school summer vacation?

For fourteen-year-old Nizhoni Pike and her friends, members of the San Carlos Apache tribe, the answer is protest.

Along with others in the Apache Stronghold, a grassroots caravan of activists traveling from Tucson, Arizona to Washington D.C., the young women have spent their summer fighting back against the egregious land grab of a sacred Apache site: Oak Flat, or Chi’chil Bildagoteel. Last December, the land was signed over to British and Australian mining company Rio Tinto by senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, who slipped the deal into the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act at literally the last minute–11:30 PM the night before Congress’s vote. Though this is hardly the first time the U.S. government has reneged on a promise to protect Native American land, it is the first time that the recipient is a foreign company. The plan is for Rio Tinto to dig a 2-mile crater into Oak Float, for copper mining.

“I became a woman at Oak Flat,” Pike says of the canyon, located in Tonto National Park, an hour east of Phoenix, Arizona. “I had my sunrise dance there, so it’s like my heart is there.” Since the decision, she and other members of the Apache Stronghold have camped out in protest at Oak Flat, and this summer they’ve journeyed across the U.S., protesting everywhere from South Dakota to New York City (where they held a flash mob in Times Square), and even opening for Neil Young with stories and prayer songs, as part of his Rebel Content Tour. Today, they marched on Capitol Hill.

Apache Activist, Times Square

“If the government can do this to us, they can do it to everybody else,” says Naelyn Pike, another teenage member of the Apache Stronghold. “This isn’t just an Apache fight, or a Native American fight, it’s an American fight. This affects all of us.”

If you’re as awed and inspired by these young women as we are, and want to add your voice to Nizhoni and Naelyn’s, click here to sign the petition to save Oak Flat.

via Rolling Stone