25. University of Arizona Desecrates Sacred Native
Sources: Action for Cultural Survival, Cultural
Survival, Inc., 215 First Street Cambridge, MA 02142, Date: July/August 1992,
Title: "Apaches Protest Observatory," Author: Jennifer Rathaus; Huracan,
PO Box 7591, Minneapolis, MN 55407, Date: Summer 1992, Title: "Vatican Denies
Sacred Ancestry of Mt. Graham," Author: Sal Salemo; Northern Sun News, PO
Box 581487, Minneapolis, MN 55458-1487, Date: Fall 1992, Title: "Native American
Sacred Lands in Crisis," Author: Sal Salemo; National Catholic Reporter,
115 E. Armour Boulevard, Kansas City, MO 64111, Date: June 16, 1989, Title: "Astronomy
Versus Red Squirrel on Arizona Sierra," Author: Tim McCarthy
Researcher: Judy Bailey
SYNOPSIS: While few Americans know about this issue, protesters
in Brussels, Belgium, drove a bulldozer to the basilica of Scherpenheuvel
to dramatize the fierce battle between Native American Apaches and the
University of Arizona (UofA).
The University of Arizona is the lead agency in an international
project to build a $200 million observatory on Mount Graham, Arizona, a site considered
by the Apaches to be sacred. Partners in the massive UofA project, which reportedly
has connections with the Defense Department's Star Wars effort, include the Max
Planck Institute in Germany, the Vatican and Italy's Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory.
other original partners, such as Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution,
have withdrawn their financial support.
Fighting the project is a coalition
of groups including the San Carlos Tribal Council, Friends of Mount Graham, the
Apache Survival Coalition, Native Americans and their supporters.
Mount Graham is host to varied plants, insects and animals found only
in this 615 acre national forest. The Apaches have used the site for
hundreds of years for worship and burials and as a source for herbal
medicines. In 1988, Congress approved a rider to the Arizona-Idaho Conservation
Act exempting UofA from the National Environmental Act without public
hearings or debate. An appeal to Congress resulted in exemption for
the project from the Endangered Species Act and the National Forest
the history of the site and its extensive documentation, Father Coyne, S.J., director
of the Vatican Observatory, cites the lack of title, written records and burial
grounds as evidence the site is not sacred, and said that he "cannot find
any authentic Apaches that consider the mountain holy." He adds, "This
land is a gift from God to be used with reason and to be respected. We believe
our responsible and legitimate use enhances its spiritual character." He
denied the project's involvement with SDI research and funding.
anthropologist, Elizabeth Brandt, says "sacred sites are hard to record,
but I have worked in this area for 20 years and I've never seen so much evidence
detailing a sacred site." Despite the massive effort against the project,
investigative reporter Sal Salerno warns, "The powerful collusion of science,
the military, the church and industry continues to trample on the rights of Native
American people." Ironically, the centerpiece telescope for the observatory
is named the "Columbus Project."
Though this story was first nominated
in 1992, an earlier article on the issue (see the following "Comments"
section) appeared in the June 16, 1989, issue of the National CatholicReporter,
written by Tim McCarthy, NCR foreign news editor.
Despite the numerous intriguing
national and international aspects to this story and the fact that it is a cause
celebre in Europe, America's mainstream media have yet to put it on the national
agenda. The media's spotlight on Mount Graham might help illuminate the conflict
between an American university and Native Americans.
COMMENTS: The failure of America's news media to cover this
story defies logic. It has nearly all the ingredients the press could
want in a "big story"-international intrigue, a major U.S.
university versus environmentalists, Native American religious rights
versus the Pope, an interesting mountain-top setting and even the Defense
Department's exotic Star Wars Program! Although these ingredients have
attracted major international media attention, they have failed to interest
much of the U.S. mainstream media.
Rathaus and Sal Salerno, two of the investigative authors who have explored the
issue, comment on this enigma and other issues involved in the Mount Graham Observatory
story: "National news coverage of the Mount Graham Observatory has been insufficient
in that it has consistently neglected the group most directly affected by the
project, the San Carlos Apaches," says Jennifer Rathaus. "The New York
Times and Wall Street Journal ran a few stories about opposition to the observatory
because of the threat it posed to the endangered red squirrel and other potential
"Only local Arizona and Native American newspapers
have focused on the threat that the observatory poses to the San Carlos Apaches'
sacred site and the implications it would have for them.
to obtain permission to build the observatory, the University of Arizona, the
Vatican and a few local politicians were able to circumvent, without public approval
or knowledge, such laws as the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation
Act and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Federal Agencies were pressured
to accept hasty and flawed biological studies, and legislation was passed to exempt
the project from environmental laws.
"The way in which the project
has proceeded without appropriate legal regulation and with little public exposure
sets a damaging precedent for future misuse of federal lands. Construction of
the Mount Graham Observatory is a violation of Native American religious and cultural
practices, and it also has serious ecological ramifications. Wider exposure of
this subject can help give the general public an understanding, and perhaps an
empathy for Native peoples whose religious freedom is being obstructed. If the
San Carlos Apaches' constitutional rights are being violated, all Americans are