by Giancarlo Barbadoro and Rosalba Nattero

The book is inspired by a case of religious and spiritual violation against the Indigenous Peoples. The violation of Mount Graham, the Apache sacred mountain, is not only a clear example of the violation of the religious rights of a Population, but also represents an emblematic case that gives us the chance to take a closer look at the topic of Indigenous Peoples.
Our book "Natural Peoples and Ecospirituality" actually deals with the topic of the Indigenous Peoples' identity and philosophy of life.
We were pleased to have the collaboration of Ola Cassadore, leader of the Apache Survival Coalition, an Apache elder who has worked tirelessly for years for the preservation of Mount Graham, which the Apache consider to be their most important sacred place and which is even now under threat by the installation of an astronomical observatory.
When one speaks about Natives, it is usual to mention the cultural features of their traditions and the various forms of oppression that they have been subjected to, while the historical and moral identity that they possess is rarely focused upon. In this book we wanted to take a closer look at this topic in order to analyse and focus upon the identity of the concept of "native" and the meaning that this holds.
We believe that all Indigenous Peoples have something in common which makes them stand out and which places them in a precise reality. In our book we wanted to focus upon the unity that links the various Indigenous Peoples. We have done this from a spiritual and social point of view.



.....The case of Natural Peoples

..... Today we live in a world conceived and developed by the great historical religions of the past that are still present at our time. All that we live occurs within a precise life philosophy, which determines every thing of our daily life.
.....We are used to live and accept as normal the world conceived by the great historical religions and we are used to think of the search for spirituality through these institutions - to which we delegate the competence on this matter - without thinking of the possibility it could be otherwise.
.....It exists however the historical case of Natural Peoples, indigenous or native peoples of the world, who do not have the ethic and spiritual reference of the great religions appeared in history, but live and propose a specific way of thinking and referring to life.
.....Peoples who did not let themselves assimilate by historical cultures and courageously defended their traditions, not taking their ethic and spiritual reference from the great religions appeared in history. Peoples who live and propose a specific way of thinking and referring to life, in connection with nature intrinsic values.
.....Natural peoples represent a form of culture and spirituality that did not arise from the context of the great historical religions but only stands beside them due to the unavoidable proximity on our planet, with their specific historical millenary path in an independent and original way on different segments of history.

.... Reference to Nature

.... Natural peoples have nature as their reference point. A reference point that does not only mean respect for the natural rhythms of life but is above all a reference to the Mystery that life expresses through its development. Not the mystery referring to the ignorance of things but the Mystery that represents the existence mystic nature.
....Natural peoples are apparently different among them by costumes and culture as are different the geographical latitudes and the historical ages in which they develop.
....But they are all joined by the only spiritual characteristic established by the relation with Nature.
....In spite of geographical and temporal differences they show a common identity that is above their cultural manifestation and joins them in a single and deep spiritual experience.

.... The case of European Natives

.... ....The majority society has never accepted willingly that it could exist free men and women proud of their ethnic and individual independence and has tried to integrate them by any possible mean.
....In order to defend and maintain intact their traditions, Natural Peoples tirelessly have set themselves many times against those who tried to conquer them and destroy their traditional roots.
....We are talking of the sad news we all unfortunately know concerning the bloody events occurred in every continent, among countless Natural Peoples, where every kind of violence and mistreatment has been committed.
....Also in Europe events did not go differently. From the expansionist action of the Roman Empire to the proselytism of Christianity onwards, some Natural Peoples have been subject to great persecutions and systematic evangelization.
....We cannot forget the religious persecutions occurred against traditional cultures that, due to their pacific nature, could not defend themselves.
....We cannot forget the inflexible leading spirits of ancient traditions who were condemned to death in order to eliminate the old tradition of European Natural Peoples.
....Many of these traditional cultures have completely disappeared. Other ethnic groups, in order to survive with their own identities and not to loose their traditional reference culture, apparently let themselves incorporate by dominant culture, hiding the characteristic signs of their culture which attracted the action of forced integration and persecution, managing to make their traditional identity survive.
....In the above historical frame we find the concept of European Natives. It is a concept which can be identified in the traditional identity of those free men and women who have tried to keep a relation with the mystery of existence on European land, maintaining the effort to escape the censure and evangelization imposed by Christianity.
....Free men and women who, through their relation with nature, have inevitably discovered values identical to those of other Natural Peoples scattered in the world and have developed traditional cultures which present similarities to those of these other peoples.
....And so today the links that culturally join American Natives and European Natives are evident, beyond the geographical and historical distances of the relevant peoples.
....These days it is difficult, almost impossible, to distinguish the European Natives from the European majority society. They speak the same languages of the continent, dress in the same way, send their children to the same schools as the others, observe the same laws imposed by the majority society.
....But in their heart of hearts they are fundamentally different and jealously preserve and live the old traditions of the European continent.

.... The re-evaluation of Natural Peoples' experience

.... For a long time the great religions have branded of superstition and ignorance the views of the world of Natural Peoples, saying nothing about the real nature of their experience.
....They have shown these peoples as archaeological remains that have not evolved and have survived history as anthropological curiosities.
....But Natural Peoples are not subjects to be put into a case of an Anthropology Museum. They are not cultures left behind in time.
....Natural Peoples are live cultures that, in spite of the persecutions suffered, have lived their history next to that of great religions following a specific evolutionary path.

.... Natural Peoples' Hope Message

.... Today Natural Peoples are well alive and lively, present in history, each one with his precise tradition that, by its univocal sense of universality, means much in a world tormented by religion wars.
....Actually we can see how from the spirituality of Natural Peoples it is possible to achieve the intuition of the existence of a universal spirituality never conceived before.
....Natural Peoples' spirituality, in its reference to nature, can be an example of how it is possible to live in contact with nature itself, of the need to respect it, of the possibility of a real brotherhood among Peoples and a spiritual unity towards a natural religion common to all the Peoples of the world.
....A lesson in peace and progress that humanity cannot underestimate.
....Natural Peoples show values of great importance for humanity. Fundamental values of man and the sense of existence that have not been contaminated nor distorted by historical interpretations and by part of the great religions and that today can provide an important and precious contribution to the evolution of individuals and the world.

.... The emblematic case of Mount Graham

.... We defined the violation of Mount Graham, the sacred mountain to the Apache people, as an emblematic case that gathers all the problems of the Native Peoples of our time.
....The violation of Mount Graham is an example of the cultural oppression suffered still today by native peoples. Around this Mountain, an old and traditional religious symbol of the Apache people, the specific interests of great religions and the right to natives' free spirituality do conflict.
....The mentioned Mountain has been violated by the construction of various astronomical sites. Many organizations have given up building these sites due to scarce visibility and have accepted Apaches' protests.
....Other sponsors continue the building activity. One of them is the Observatory run by the Vatican City-State, that maintains there are no reasons to consider the site holy, thus the natives are not authorized to protest.
....In this case the Apache Natives, as many other Natural Peoples of the world, are stripped of their most elementary rights and their protest is ignored and, as it already happened in the past, the interests increase falsification and misunderstanding in order to subtract power to their protest.
....From the above ensues our personal engagement to make this problem known. Such a commitment has led to this book to which cooperated also Ola Cassadore, Leader of the Apache Survival Coalition.
....Through it we intend to make the Mount Graham case known and contribute to help all the other Natural Peoples.
....Our book is also intended to bear direct witness to the Apache Population's struggle for the right to express its spiritual freedom.
....Mount Graham is a mountain that is located near Tucson, Arizona, close to the San Carlos Apache reservation. It is a unique mountain of it's kind, because even though it is situated in a desert area it preserves a particularly rare variety of vegetation types, ranging from desert vegetation to that of boreal forest.
....Since time beyond memory, Mount Graham has played a key role in the Apache culture.
....For example, the Apaches have traditionally preserved 32 songs of life, given to their Ancestors by the Creator, and 16 of these contain direct references to Mount Graham, which in the Apache language is called Dzil Nchaa Si An (the big seated mountain).
....Mount Graham is the home of Ga'an, the spiritual messenger of the past. Ga'an is the spirit that lives inside Mount Graham, who is known today as the spiritual dancer of the Apache mountain, who the Apache Population, from the times of their Ancestors until the modern day generation, depend upon for their ceremonies and for their cultural survival.
....Mount Graham belonged to the San Carlos reservation until 1873. Even after the reservation was dismantled (owing to the progressive restriction of its boundaries), Mount Graham continued to represent the Apaches' most important sacred place, where, until a few years ago, they continued to hold their prayers and rituals, with complete respect for the forms of nature that can be found in the most uncontaminated places on the mountain, and where the sacred springs necessary for their ceremonies are located.
....However, this sacred place has been taken away from the Apaches not once, but twice. The first time was when it was excluded from the reservation and the second time was in 1990, when the construction of the astronomical observatory first began. The Observatory project is destroying the most sacred part of the mountain and the Apaches no longer have access to their sacred site.
....The organisation behind the project is the University of Arizona. It is backed by two European partners: the Observatory of Arcetri, Florence, which is financed by the Italian government, and the Vatican. The Max Planck Istitute of Germany, a third important partner, withdrew from the project in 2002 because of the poor visibility of the site.
....Initially there were several other sponsors, all of which have also withdrawn from the project, due to the Apaches' strenuous opposition.

.... The Case History

.... It all began with deceit: the University of Arizona sent a letter (required by legislation) asking for the Apaches' approval of the project. The letter, though, never arrived in the hands of the Apaches, but was found in a drawer of the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) a year and a half later. Be it that they had not received a reply, the University of Arizona held that they had permission to begin construction of the Observatory.
....The project originally was for the construction of seven telescopes on this sacred mountain. This illegal development has been contested by the Apaches since they came to hear of the project over fourteen years ago.
....Two telescopes have already been built, while a third one, the LBT (Large Binocular Telescope), is almost completed. Only one telescope, the one belonging to the Vatican, is functional at the moment. The Italian State, through the Astrophysics Observatory of Arcetri, is directly involved in the LBT, which is designed to be the northern hemisphere's largest optical telescope.
....The almost four acres of land that are to be occupied by the first three telescopes are situated on one of the highest peaks, at an altitude of over 3,000 meters, that was virtually uncontaminated before the construction of the telescopes began.
....The Apaches consider everything that is happening on Mount Graham to be desecration. Since 1990, they have been fighting with all their strength to regain their sacred mountain. Movements from all over the world have united with them, political, religious and lay groups and organizations, both American and European, as well as most of the Indian tribes have joined the battle.
....The Tribal Council of the San Carlos Apache have passed 5 official Resolutions in opposition to the Observatory and they appointed Ola Cassadore to take the role of promoter, as the Tribal Council's spokesperson, of the Apaches' protest around the world.

.... Ola Cassadore's struggle

.... Since 1990, Ola Cassadore has been sending forth the protest around the world. She has also come many times to Italy to ask the Government to cut off the funds for the Observatory.
....Ola Cassadore has assigned us the task of bringing this case before the Commission of Human Rights at the UN in Geneva, and it is important for us to have the acknowledgement for this book that has been granted by the High Commission for Human Rights, because it spotlights a Native Population's struggle for their sacred site.
....Over the last two years the Apache Survival Coalition has led a battle to dissuade two other universities, the University of Minnesota and the University of Virginia, from becoming partners in the project. Although all of the Tribes of Minnesota as well as the Commitee of Social Research were opposed, the university's administration decided to commit the University of Minnesota to taking part in the project.
....The University of Virginia has likewise decided to take part in the project, although it has asked the University of Arizona to consult the Apaches and provide them with educational and medical assistance. Without doubt these two aspects are very important to a population, however the Apache see this proposal as attempted bribery.
....Over the last few days a devastating forest fire has been inflicting further violence on the sacred mountain. It is destroying the centuries-old vegetation and the endangered species that reside there. This unexpected calamity may cause extensive damage to the Observatory and large sums of money may be necessary for the repairs. Apaches say fire threat to Arizona observatory on their sacred mountain is a "warning from God".
....The project must be stopped in any case.

.... A Battle for all Indigenous Peoples

.... Battling for Mount Graham means battling for the religious rights of every native Population, all those Populations that seem to be invisible to today's society, even though they have their own cultural and spiritual identity, which the "historical" cultures have much to learn from.
....It is quite to be expected that the Vatican should go ahead with the project, since it has declared that the mountain is not sacred, according to the declaration made by Father George Coyne, head of the Specola Vaticana, at Castel Gandolfo on May 25,1992.
....It is unheard of, that the University of Arizona has even denounced the religious beliefs of the American Indians in court (The Independent Native Journal - May 2001), appealing to the thesis that states that religious freedom does not exist for the American Indians.