WORKING GROUP ON INDIGENOUS POPULATIONS
24th Session, Geneva 31 July to 4 August 2006
I am the Representative of the Apache Survival Coalition and I am here to speak on behalf of its Chair, Ola Cassadore.
For many years now, the Apache Survival Coalition has been asking the Working Group on Indigenous Populations for help in defending Mount Graham, the Apache People's desecrated top sacred site, menaced by the construction of a challenged international astronomical observatory, so in this important Forum we intend appealing against the violation of a sacred site and the religious rights of the Apache People.
The Apaches have been protesting for 16 years, but despite the many appeals and the support of indigenous and non-indigenous organizations all over the world, Mount Graham continues being desecrated and menaced and the Apaches deprived of their rights to a sacred place.
We believe the identity of Native Peoples is based on their traditional knowledge, which preserves their points of reference for their history and spirituality and without which their invaluable inheritance is bound to disappear altogether, with dire consequences for all individuals.
Mount Graham, which the Apaches call Dzill Nchaa Si'An, plays a basic role in the traditional knowledge of this People and has always been a sacred place for them, as a spiritual and therapeutical reference point. This is the mountain where the Apaches find the herbs, waters and plants they need to practice their medical cures and has always been used by them for collective rites and individual prayers, basic for their culture and religion.
This sacred mountain is however menaced by the construction of an international astronomical observatory, a project shared by the Vatican and the Italian Government-financed Arcetri Observatory as well as the University of Arizona. Mount Graham was inside the Apache Reserve but the entire mountain area was abducted in 1873 by an executive order. It remained undisturbed until the University of Arizona started works on it to implement the observatory.
The project specified the construction of 7 telescopeses, 2 of which have already been built and a third one due to be one of the world's most perfect was inaugurated in October 2004, but it is not completed yet. The Apaches appealed against this totally illegal development ever since they came to know of the project some 16 years ago, and demonstrations opposing the project were organized even before one single tree was cut down or one mine exploded.
An international protest movement was born to support the Apache Survival Coalition led by Ola Cassadore, which united Indian Tribes and Non-Governmental Organizations worldwide, but the project never stopped. Its partners pursued it despite opposition and the Laws on the Preservation of Historical Sites by appealing to the exemptions Congress had granted in the past with the burial of other important laws.
In the last 16 years this Apaches' living and vital mountain element has been subjected to serious damage, deforestation and mines exploded for the observatory foundations. A great rift crossing it vertically was dug to install electrical power line and a great tower containing the Large Binocular Telescope microwave radiation equipment has just been completed. The Microwave Tower installation demanded prior consultation with local Tribes.
The Apache Survival Coalition founded the Western Apache group that unites all West Apache Tribes to support the San Carlos Apaches in protecting Mount Graham. They met with United Nations Special Rapporteur Rodolfo Stavenhagen in Arizona for the second time in last October to illustrate the reasons for their protest.
The Western Apaches have met the Forest Service quite often over these past years, to obtain addition of the mountain to the National Register of Western Apache Historic Places and Cultural Property due to its basic religious importance. The application was in line with the qualifications of the National Historic Preservation Act.
But despite the U.S. Forest Service released a report completed by their own experts which showed that the entire mountain was a site worthy of nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, the Forest Service has not actually nominated this site to the Register, although it is their responsibility.
The University of Arizona and the Forest Service offered an agreement to the Apaches, called Memorandum of Agreement, but the Apaches never signed it. No agreement has been reached and no Apache will ever approve this project.
According to the Mount Graham Coalition web site, 22 of the leading astronomy universities funded by the National Optical Astronomy Observatories - including the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and Yale University - have dropped out of the project, citing cultural, environmental and quality concerns after reports of poor visibility on Mount Graham. The Mount Graham Coalition opposes telescopes on the mountain.
Today, a giant 14-storey high metal box built to house the Large Binocular Telescope towers over the Emerald Peak Forest and can be seen from as far as the San Carlos and White Mountains Reserves. The Large Binocular Telescope was supposed to be completed in October 1992, but is now 14 years behind schedule due to international protests, technological failures and the countless modifications made to the telescope to compensate for scant site visibility. High humidity-level Mount Graham is in fact subject to high atmospheric turbulence. Actual truth is quite different from the news publicised on the clamorous discoveries made by the LBT, since the telescope is not completed yet and perhaps more than another year will be needed before it can be used. False news serves to give the observatory false credit.
These are the words of Ola Cassadore: "My Grandmother was spiritually strong in her Apache way and she would give me lessons in the darkness of the nights on the mountain. She told me not to be afraid, that we were here in our place on the mountain, we were part of this land and all things on this mountain, and we were protected. Many years later the Apache Elders told me of the project for building the astronomical observatory on Mount Graham. It was painful for the Elders and tears streamed from their eyes as they talked to me that Mount Graham is a sacred mountain they didn't want to see destroyed. That was when I decided to oppose the project. A long road still remains to be done for us, but we shall keep on fighting".
These 16 years of struggle of the Apache and of the many others that have committed themselves to defending Mount Graham must not be waste in vain. 16 years of frustrations, during which Ola and her people have travelled for thousands of miles, prayed and shed tears for their spiritual mountain. They have never given up. Ola has continued to inform the non-Indians that this mountain is, in her words, "a Dynamic Manifestation of Spiritual Power that has never been conquered or destroyed".
The violation of an Indigenous Peoples' Sacred Site means the survival of their identity is at risk.
We feel that every Population has the right to preserve their traditional knowledge and their religious beliefs. We call on this Working Group to help us protect the religious rights of the Apache People and defend their Sacred Mountain.
Thank you Mr. Chairperson.
Vice Chairperson Ecospirituality Foundation
- of the Apache Survival Coalition of Arizona
- of the Breton "Menhirs Libres" Community of Brittany
- of the Wiran Aboriginal Corporation of Australia
- of the Confrérie Mbog-Parlement, Cameroun
- of the United Confederation of Taino People, Caribbean