A black pickup truck pulled up to the group’s first campsite, signifying the arrival of elected Apache leader and extreme distance runner Wendsler Nosie. He’s spearheading the fight for the Apache people to retain their land from Resolution Copper, a mining company that seeks to mine the copper-rich land located within 15 miles of Oak Flat, Arizona.

The man’s appearance was no small feat— Nosie has been shot at on multiple occasions, and he is frequently tracked.

“He told us that night that he was going to leave tomorrow morning, and we’re like, oh, okay,” said Arleth Martinez, sophomore biochemistry major.  “We got up that morning, and there was actually a low-flying helicopter flying super close to us. It was scary.”

This past June, nine members of Goshen’s cross country team headed to Arizona on Study-Service Term. While there, students took a new class called ecological economics, led by Jerrell Ross Richer, professor of economics, and Rustin Nyce, men’s and women’s cross country coach. 

During the second week of the trip, team members traveled to Oak Flat, which is sacred tribal land for the Apache people. 

Nosie met with the team for a few hours, telling them of the Apache people’s fight to keep their land and his own sacred connection with it. 

Kevin Liddell, a sophomore physics major, discussed the “Three P’s” that students learned about and applied to Oak Flat: place, people, and profit. Some residents support the mining project, as mining provides well-paying jobs and a temporary boost for the local economy.

Not all of the residents agree. Students heard from Henry Muñoz, a former miner and current anti-mining proponent. In his view, the economic benefits of mining are short-lived and volatile. Wide-reaching environmental consequences include potential arsenic contamination of nearby water sources and a four degree temperature increase in surrounding areas.

On a trip to a nearby mining town, students were faced with the devastating effect mining would have on the beautiful and unique place that is Oak Flat.

“We drove through there; mountains were shaved of all their trees, and all the natural dirt and everything,” Liddell said. “It just looked like mounds of dust.”

Nosie’s controversial status requires him to move constantly from place to place. This movement extends to his physical body, where he runs enormous distances.

“He invited us out to his July run, where he would go up and down two mountains that are super sacred; it was 100+ miles,” Martinez said. Students declined the invitation, fearing the implications that such a long run would have on their coming season. His commitment to running and spiritual view of the practice, however, was inspiring.

“The Apaches view running as your ultimate connection with the earth and ground,” Liddell said. “From a religious perspective, running on Oak Flat is like being with the deities.”

During the month of September, the cross country team is dedicating the miles they run to the Apache people, and posting daily on their Instagram account, @gcmapleleafs_xc. You are invited to join by posting your own physical activity with the #protectoakflat.