Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.
My name is Rosalba Nattero. I am the Representative of the Apache Survival Coalition and I am here once more to speak on behalf of its Chair, Ola Cassadore.
Even this year, I appeal against the violations of a sacred site and the religious rights of a Population. I refer to Mount Graham, the Apache sacred mountain.
The identity of the Indigenous Peoples is based upon their traditional knowledge. In this heritage there is the reference of their history and spirituality.
Without their roots it is inevitable that the heritage of the Indigenous Peoples will disappear, creating great harm for the individuals.
Mount Graham which the Apache know as Dzill Nchaa Si'an has a fundamental role in the traditional knowledge of this People. Since time beyond our memory Mt. Graham is their most sacred site.
For the Apache it is a site of devotion and healing. In this mountain they find the herbs, waters and plants to practice their therapies.The Apache have always used the mountain for their collective religious ceremonies and for individual spiritual practice, so it is fundamental to Apache culture and religion.
But this sacred mountain is threatened by the construction of an international astronomical observatory by the University of Arizona, in partnership with the Vatican and the Observatory of Arcetri in Italy, which is funded by the Italian Government.
Mount Graham was located in the boundries of the Apache reservation, but in 1873 the mountain was torn away from them through executive order.
The mountain lay untouched until the University of Arizona started to intervene upon its grounds with the intent of constructing an observatory.
The initial project was called Columbus Project, but the name was changed after the many protests in cities across the U.S.A. and Europe in 1992.
The project was for the construction of seven telescopes in this sacred mountain. Two telescopes have already been built while a third one, destined to become one of the largest and most advanced in the world, was inaugurated last October.
Today, a towering 14-story metal box built to house the Large Binocular Telescope, looms high above the forest on Emerald Peak, visible from both the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache reservations.
The Large Binocular Telescope was to be completed in October 1992. But the LBT is already 13 years late, plagued by international scandal, major technological failures and modifications to compensate for poor viewing conditions. As a matter of fact, Mount Graham is subject to substantial atmospheric turbulence, due to its very humid climate.
The University of Arizona has a notorious history for its extreme efforts in appropriating Mount Graham for telescope development. In the mid 90's, the University of Arizona became the first university to lobby against the listing for an endangered species. It became the first university to fight in court against the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, to arrest a Native American for praying, and to demand permits be obtained by Apaches to pray on their sacred mountain. The University of Arizona is also the first university to seek exemption from all U.S.A. environmental laws, which it chose to do twice to circumvent regulatory processes and court orders that blocked the construction of telescopes on Mount Graham.
This completely illegal development has been fiercely contested by the Apache since they came to hear of the project, almost 15 years ago. The San Carlos Apache Tribal Council has passed several official resolutions against the project and anti-observatory demonstrations were organized even before work started.
At the side of the Apache Survival Coalition, led by Ola Cassadore, stands a series of international protests that has united Indian Tribes and non-governmental organizations from around the world. The Apache San Carlos Tribe, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Council of Churches, and many other national and international organizations stand out against the project.
Many of the project sponsors, due to international protest and the poor visibility of the site, have withdrawn.
However, the project has gone ahead in spite of such opposition and in spite environmental and historic preservation laws because of legislative exemptions to existing laws in the United States which were passed by U.S. Congress by burying them to other important legislations.
After denying for many years that Mount Graham was a sacred site, in the Summer 2002, the U.S. Forest Service finally 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, a Federal Registry of protected sites of historic and cultural significant to the nation as a whole. In spite of this, the Forest Service has not actually nominated this site to the Register, although it is their responsibility.
During the last year the Apache Survival Coalition met with the U.S. Forest Service several times to discuss this issue, but in the meantime Mount Graham is still excluded from the National Register of Historic Places.
In the recent years, the Apache Survival Coalition as fought to dissuade two other universities, the University of Minnesota and the University of Virginia, from becoming partners in the project.
These two universities have made conspicuous offerings of money to the Apache as well as attempt to provide educational and health and medical assistance in exchange for their collaboration. Although education and health are very important to the Apache, this effort is widely viewed as an attempt at bribery that they undoubtedly refused.
Perhaps, the strangest fact of all is the combative stance the Vatican has taken as one of the partners in the project. The Vatican Observatory, through its director, the Jesuit Father Joseph Coyne, as denounced the Apaches' spiritual relationship with Mount Graham. In the first edition of his manifesto Personal Reflections on the Nature of Sacred, Coyne mentioned that the Apaches' perspective to defend the mountain "is a kind of religiosity that must be suppressed with all the forces we can muster".
These 15 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. 15 years of frustration, in which Ola and her people have travelled 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 their mount 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 traditions and their religious beliefs. We call on this Assembly to help us protect the religious rights of the Apache People and defend their Sacred Mountain.
Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.
Representative of the Apache Survival Coalition
Vice Chairperson of the Ecospirituality Foundation