Naelyn Pike, a skateboard aficionado and teenage Apache activist, arrived in Washington in 2013 to testify before Congress ... She was speaking that day to a Senate subcommittee about the fate of Oak Flat, a vast plot of southeastern Arizona that is sacred to the San Carlos Apaches and lies above one of the largest known untapped veins of copper in the United States ... Pike’s personal and political coming-of-age unfolds throughout Oak Flat, the masterly new illustrated book by the artist and writer Lauren Redniss, in which she follows the continuing fight between the San Carlos Apaches and Resolution Copper ... Redniss weaves together the fraught history of copper extraction, along with Pike’s narrative and those of others in her community, into a brilliant assemblage of words and images. She pulls from an astonishing variety of sources: oral history, legal opinions, anthropological accounts, corporate news releases and careful, firsthand reporting, which she intersperses with her own vibrant and indelible colored-pencil sketches. The result is virtuosic.
Lauren Redniss spent three years reporting from this contested territory for Oak Flat Like her other acclaimed books (which have earned her a MacArthur Fellowship), this one defies easy categorization. An artist and writer, Ms. Redniss has a flair for weaving deep reporting and visual storytelling into immersive and engrossing nonfiction ... Oak Flat is full of sensitive portraits—in both words and vivid drawings—of the Apache families protesting this mine, and the poor residents of nearby Superior who want the jobs a mine would bring ... Ms. Redniss’s writing is clear, dispassionate and heavily footnoted, and she allows her subjects to speak for themselves ... Although the book is less visually arresting than past works, Ms. Redniss’s colorful pencil and crayon drawings capture the surreal beauty of the region, with its rocky canyons and gnarly old-growth trees.
Artist and writer Lauren Redniss creates books like no one else's. She mixes art, design, and rigorous research with a prose style that is at once assertive, journalistic and poetic. The results, though strictly based in fact, seem at once like graphic novels minus the familiar panel format, longform essays enriched by full-page drawings, and plays driven by monologue ... Redniss' Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West certainly feels expansive ... Oak Flat moves seamlessly between settings, and between voices. This motion puts Redniss' stylistic, empathic, and intellectual gifts on great, and equivalent, display ... Redniss' ability and willingness to erase herself is perhaps more remarkable because she is a highly gifted writer, and a highly flexible one ... On each page, she advocates both subtly and explicitly for patience and respect. She takes to clear heart the fact that the 'contested copper under Oak Flat...is older than the earth itself. A mine [there] would operate for about 40 years.'
In her fourth work of visual nonfiction...[Redniss] forges an enthralling convergence of oral history and narrative to tell with precision and empathy the dramatic story of the still unresolved battle over Oak Flat. She reaches back to the region’s history of conquest and economic booms and busts; illuminates Apache culture, highlighting the arduous, traditional coming-of-age ceremony for young women that Naelyn performs on Oak Flat; and elucidates the damage copper mining does to the land and human health. By letting facts and perceptions reverberate in sync with her similarly distilled, lustrously colorful drawings, Redniss creates a stunningly holistic and deeply moving tale of how we value and live on the earth for better and for worse.
..Redniss...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 ... 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.
....artistically and thematically profound ... Here, [Redniss] frames her provocative narrative with artistry that evokes the awe and wonder of Native origin stories and the timelessness of eternity ... 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.