Mt. Graham is near Tucson, Arizona, in the Apache San Carlos reservation. At 3200 metres it is one of the highest peaks in Arizona. Above all, though, it is the single most sacred site of the Apache Nation. Dzil Nchaa Si An , otherwise known by the local natives as ‘Big Seated Mountain’ because of its distinctive profile, is an important religious reference point for the Apache: their ancestors are buried there; their medicine-men go there to collect therapeutical herbal plants; and the Apache shamans perform their sacred rites there.
But all this is seriously threatened by the construction of an astronomical observatory, planned to be one of the biggest in the world , containing no less than seven telescopes.
The summit of the mountain, the part held most sacred by the Apaches, has been off-limits to its legitimate owners for the past ten years.
The building of just two of the seven planned telescopes has already caused irreversible damage to the local ecosystem, which is considered to be unique. Mt. Graham is an oasis of nature of enormous biological and geological importance, being the only example left in the area of the ecological habitat of the last glacial period. It represents an oasis where over 20 species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world have been able to survive extinction until now. This is why the environmental movements of both America and Europe have stepped in, besides the Apaches, in defence of Mt. Graham.
A fierce battle has been under way for ten years now, uniting Indian tribes, environmental movements and organisations around the world. As an example, there is the Ansaldo factory in Milan, Italy (involved in the construction work), where workers have been on a protracted strike to protest against the project and refusing to participate in it. The project has been hampered, but not stopped.
For years, Ola Cassadore, Official Spokesperson of the Apache San Carlos Tribal Council and leader of the Apache Survival Coalition, has been fighting with no holds barred to tell the whole world about the violation of Mt. Graham. Other organisations, such as the Mt. Graham Coalition, have sprung up to join the struggle against the observatory project.
Giancarlo Barbadoro and Rosalba Nattero learned about the problem during a trip to Arizona in 1993 and on their return to Italy they immediately started to help the Mt. Graham cause, alerting various associations and universities.
Their own association, the Grotta di Merlino launched several compaigns all over Italy, collecting signatures for petitions to the Italian Government.
Rosalba Nattero and Giancarlo Barbadoro, Representatives of Apache Survival Coalition in Italy, brought the case to the attention of the United Nations during the Geneva Conference from 24th – 28th July 2000, supported by the Ecospirituality Foundation’s Committee for the Defence of Mt. Graham.
As a result of all the worldwide protests, many sponsors have withdrawn from the project. It has been announced recently that the Max Planck Institute of Munich, one of the major European sponsors, is pulling out because of the poor visibility at the site – coincidentally, research carried out by one of the Apache support groups revealed that there are a number of alternative sites with more suitable visibility for this type of observatory.
The major sponsors, apart from the University of Arizona, remain the Italian partners – the Arcetri Observatory and the Vatican.
After protests sent by the Apaches to the Pope, the Vatican sent its experts to the scene, who pronounced that the site
“is not sacred”.
Ola Cassadore with Rosalba Nattero on Mt. Graham.
Giancarlo Barbadoro, Rosalba Nattero and Marco Romano
with Ola Cassadore and Mike Davis on Mt. Graham.