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Chronology of Apache opposition to astronomy
development on Mt. Graham


late 1970’s
University of Arizona sets out to put together a consortium of institutions to build a $200 million, seven-telescope observatory. First choice for a location in the San Francisco Peaks is scrapped after 140,000 Navajo and Hopi pledge to resist the development. Second choice, Mount Baldy, is abandoned when landowners White Mountain Apache refuse rights to develop. Mount Graham chosen as ideal spot.


August 1985
University of Arizona contact with Apache consists of one letter regarding the Mt. Graham observatory project. No UA or U.S. Forest Service (USFS) consultations with Apache as required by federal law are held.

January 1987
Evidence of Mt. Graham's sacredness submitted to U.S. Forest Service in Draft Environmental Impact Statement comments. University of Arizona and USFS refuse to undertake cultural studies required by U.S. law: National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA).

March 1987
The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy ranks Mount Graham thirty-eighth in a study of fifty-seven likely astronomy sites, citing cloud cover, topography and air turbulence.

October 1988
After a multi-million dollar University of Arizona lobbying blitz, in the last hours of the 1988 Congress, a backdoor rider is passed without public hearings exempting the university from NEPA, NHPA, and National Forest Management Act (NFMA) laws, laws which would prevent development on the basis of cultural, religious or environmental grounds. University obtains permit to develop first three telescopes of a total of seven sites on Mt. Graham.

The Vatican, Germany's Max Planck Institute, the Italian National Astrophysics group and Ohio State University eventually join as partners in the observatory project.

September 1989
Pope John Paul, speaking in Phoenix, Arizona, says:
“I encourage you as native people belonging to the different tribes and nations in the East, South, West and North to preserve and keep alive your cultures, your languages, the values and customs which have served you well in the past and which provide a solid foundation for the future.”

October 1989
Ola Cassadore Davis, 66, member of the San Carlos Apache Nation, speaks out publicly against the Mt. Graham telescope project, saying:
“The medicine men sing about that mountain when they pray, generation to generation, all the way down through the years.”

Regarding the collaboration of the Vatican with the telescope project, Ola says:
“He [Pope John Paul] should understand about religion. And that mountain is important to the religion of my people.”

October 1989
University of Arizona, Vatican and Germany astronomy interests ignore Apache protests and cut virgin forest for new road to the summit of Mt. Graham.

December 1989
University of Arizona meets San Carlos Apache Tribal Council and is informed of the Council’s opposition to the Mount Graham Observatory project and of their intent to pass an opposition resolution.


February 1990
The San Carlos Apache Tribal Council unanimously authorizes Ola Cassadore Davis to “work in opposition to the…telescope(s) on top of Mt. Graham.”

July 1990
San Carlos Apache Tribal Council (6-0) passes resolution declaring
“…any permanent modification of the present form of this mountain constitutes a display of profound disrespect for a cherished feature of the Apache’s original homeland as well as a serious violation of Apache traditional religious beliefs…the San Carlos Apache Tribe states its firm and total opposition to the construction of a telescope on the top of Mt. Graham…”

August 1990
San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman writes U.S. Forest Service, threatens lawsuit, stating:
“Since time immemorial Mt. Graham has been a sacred mountain to the Apache people…Yet, the Tribe has never been contacted by your office to inquire about potential impacts of the project on the Apache religion…Last week we did receive a visit from representatives of the University of Arizona. When we expressed our concern about the potential religious impacts, these representatives offered to delay the project a total of one week…This is clearly an inadequate amount of time for such a complex undertaking and the Tribal Council considered it to be a demeaning and hollow offer.”

October 1990
University of Arizona, the Vatican, and Germany’s Max Planck Institute clear-cut summit telescope sites, proceed to plan and build the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope and the Heinrich Hertz Submillimeter Telescope.


June 1991
Entire San Carlos Tribal Council (9-0) signs protest letter to the U.S. Forest Service regarding the Mt. Graham observatory project’s violations of National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), National Forest Management Act (NFMA).

The letter states:
“RE: Immediate permit revocation and immediate cessation of construction activity on Dzil Nchaa Si An (Mt. Graham)…As you know, Dzil Nchaa Si An is sacred to the Apache people. Since the early stages of telescope development, the University of Arizona and the Forest Service have known of its religious and cultural importance to our Tribe. The legal mandate for Forest Service compliance with protective cultural, archeological and religious statues has never been revoked. The Forest Service has violated its duty to respect the religious freedom of Indian people.”

August 1991
Apache elders and Apache Survival Coalition file suit against the U.S. Forest Service to stop the observatory project. Germany’s Max Planck Institute and Vatican astronomers ignore Apache lawsuit and proceed to pour cement soon thereafter.

November 1991
Washington, D.C. Fifteen Native American and 11 environmental organizations pass resolution opposing Mt. Graham telescope project.

December 1991
San Carlos Tribal Council reaffirms 1990 resolution and support of Apache Survival Coalition.


February 1992
San Carlos Apache tribal chairman asks Pope John Paul II to meet with Apache. Pope agrees, but Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Sodano, cancels audience at the last minute after Apache reach Rome.

Tribal resolutions are instead mailed to the Pope.

March 1992
University of Arizona is first U.S. university to enter court opposing the religious beliefs of Native Americans.

April 1992
In court proceedings, Vatican astronomer George Coyne, S.J., testifies that Apaches had failed to convince the Catholic Church that Mt. Graham “possesses a sacred character which precludes responsible and legitimate use of the land.” Says he will only accept physical evidence of religious use such as the foundation of a building that could be a church.

Jesuit University of Arizona professor, Charles Polzer, attacks 80 years worth of anthropological findings that Mt. Graham is a vital sacred site for the San Carlos people.

April 1992
Anthropological scholar Dr. Keith Basso testifies:
“As interpreted by the Apache, damage to Mount Graham would certainly result in damage to themselves, for damage to the mountain could only be seen as a display of profound disrespect. Such disrespect would precipitate a lasting disruption in the workings of the universe, and this in turn would bring serious harm to persons living within it. In short, permanent damage to Mount Graham would be construed by the Apache as an act of religious desecration, of wanton and gratuitous defilement, and its shattering repercussions would be numerous and profound.”

April 1992
Apache spiritual leaders, medicine people, sign petition opposing telescopes:
“We the undersigned spiritual leaders of the Apache people acknowledge the central sacred importance of Dzil Nchaa Si An (Mt. Graham) to the traditional religious practice of the Apache. We oppose the Mt. Graham telescope project because it will interfere with the ability of the traditional Apache to practice their religion.”

April 1992
Apache Survival Coalition injunction against telescopes is denied by court. University of Arizona lawyers claim they are exempt from all cultural protection laws.

April, June 1992
Cities of Rome and Florence, Italy, pass resolutions opposing telescopes.

May 1992
Vatican Observatory declares Apache beliefs “a kind of religiosity…which must be suppressed with all the force we can muster.”

June 1992
Three San Carlos Apache tribal members go to Washington, D.C. to protest the observatory development to the Italian and German ambassadors, Arizona congressional delegation.

August, October 1992
Entire San Carlos Apache Tribal Council signs protest letter to German Parliament, Vatican Secretary of State.

September 1992
Catholic Bishop Moreno of Tucson refuses to meet with Tribal Council.


January 1993
National Congress of American Indians unanimously approves support of San Carlos Apache opposition to telescopes.

May 1993
San Carlos Apache Tribal Council votes unanimously to reaffirm previous project opposition resolutions of 1990, 1991.

June 1993
Coronado National Forest Supervisor admits he knew all along Mt. Graham was sacred and deliberately covered up facts.

September 1993
Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope is dedicated. Massive rally against telescopes. Apache woman risks life atop log "tripod" to blockade event.

December 1993
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service suddenly reverses opinion and gives approval for Mt. Graham Large Binocular Telescope to be relocated from original site authorized by congress — without meeting provisions of the law. Forest Service concurs.

December 7, 1993
At 5:00 AM in clandestine act, University of Arizona cuts down more than 250 old-growth trees covering about three-quarters of an acre on East Emerald Peak for the Large Binocular Telescope. Audubon Society president Charles J. Babbitt says: "Cultural law, environmental law, civil rights and freedom of religion no longer matter to the University of Arizona."


April 1994
Fifty European astronomers sign a petition appealing for a halt to the project "so that the unique environment and sacred mountain of Mount Graham can be saved."

June 1994
Sixty Apache and non-Apache runners complete a 95-mile run across San Carlos reservation and up Mt. Graham in a show of solidarity in opposition to the Mt. Graham telescopes.

July 1994
U.S. District Judge Alfredo Marquez issues permanent injunction prohibiting the University of Arizona from clearing the planned site of the Large Binocular Telescope until further environmental studies are done. His decision is later upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

October 1994
Majority of San Carlos Apache Tribal Council signs declaration to Italian Parliament opposing telescopes.


June 1995
San Carlos Apache Tribal Council reaffirms opposition to observatory project.

July 1995
San Carlos Apache Tribe notifies U.S. Forest Service and Arizona State Historic Preservation Office to include Mt. Graham as a "Traditional Cultural Property" in National Register of Historic Places listing.

July 1995
University of Arizona Board of Regents and U.S. Forest Service appeals in clear-cutting injunction are rejected unanimously by twenty-three 9th Circuit Court judges. Judge Marquez order for Forest Service to do all environmental and cultural studies is upheld. U.S. Forest Service and University of Arizona ignore court order, lobby Congressman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) for second congressional exemption.

August 1995
German astronomers Rolf-Peter Kudritsky and Gunther Hasinger take testimonies of San Carlos tribal members. Correspondent Sandra Rambler reports:
“Hasinger states that they do not need to apologize to Apache because they did not believe they were desecrating anything sacred to Apaches…I was at the meeting and I noticed while our people were offering their testimonies to these Germans, these guys were laid back and would occasionally snicker to one another. Is that respect? I honestly believe that their minds had already been made up before they even heard the testimonies.”

September 1995
San Carlos Apache Tribe protests German Mt. Graham involvement (Heinrich Hertz Submillimeter Telescope) to Helmut Kohl.

October 1995
National Congress of American Indians pass unanimous resolution opposing any congressional rider to exempt telescopes from U.S. cultural or environmental protection laws.

November 1995
Ramon Riley, White Mountain Apache Tribe Cultural Resources Director, states to Rolf-Peter Kudritsky, chairman of the German Council of Astronomers, that “the observatory project has significantly harmed our already damaged culture in a profound and almost unforgivable way,” and asks them to withdraw from the project.

November 1995
San Carlos Apache Tribe asks Senator John McCain for U.S. Forest Service to undertake long overdue cultural studies.

November 1995
Representatives of six Apache tribes protest any rider exempting astronomers from U.S. environmental and cultural protection laws.


Winter 1996
In Cultural Survival Quarterly, anthropologist Dr. Elizabeth Brandt writes:
“For the astronomers…[Mt. Graham]…is merely a convenient…platform…For the Apache these alterations are intolerable violations, both symbolic and physical rents in the fabric of the cosmos. The mountain must be respected. The telescopes ‘must go’ or something unimaginable will happen.”

April 1996
Congress passes rider to overturn court injunction against clear cutting by University of Arizona for Large Binocular Telescope. University obtains congressional exemption from environmental and cultural protection laws.

April 1996
Major forest fire, the Clark Peak Fire, comes within 200 yards of the Mt. Graham observatory.

August 1996
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation notifies U.S. Forest Service of its failure to follow cultural laws regarding Apache religious beliefs on Mt. Graham.


January 1997
White Mountain Apache Tribe Cultural Director Ramon Riley writes to Ohio State University President, regarding that institution’s collaboration with the telescope project:
“…the long term health of Apache people and our cultures depend in a very real way on the physical and visual integrity of our ancestral landscapes…no good can come from an observatory built on institutional arrogance and aggressive contempt for divergent values and perspectives.”

August 1997
Apache Wendsler Nosie is detained by University of Arizona police while returning from praying on Mt. Graham, cited for trespassing. Nosie states:
“For an Apache to be detained and cited for praying on our sacred mountain by a public university is an outrageous act. Apaches have been praying on Mt. Graham since time immemorial…It is our religious right.” Wendsler is later acquitted.


March 1998
Motion signed by 83 members of the Italian parliament opposing Italian government funding for the Large Binocular Telescope on Mt. Graham.

April 1998
In Washington, D.C., "Women In Preservation" award bestowed upon Ola Cassadore Davis "for her many contributions to the preservation of cultural heritage."

May 1998
Over 100 U.S. and international organizations urge NASA to withhold funding from the telescopes and comply with U.S. environmental and cultural protection laws.

August 13, 1998
University of Arizona demands Native Americans obtain prayer permits 48 hours prior to praying on Mt. Graham.

December 1998
United Nations Commission on Human Rights, in a report on freedom of expression, states:

Native Americans are being asked to “prove their religion”, and in particular the religious significance of sites…Because the Native Americans' system of values is not recognized, their religious practices are less well protected than those of other religions.

Then there is the problem of access to religious places and sacred features…(for example, a request for compulsory authorization for Native Americans to practise their religion on the Mount Graham sacred site situated near the University of Arizona's telescopes)…

These complaints reflect both a real lack of understanding and consideration and an indifference and even hostility on the part of the various officials…with regard to the values and beliefs of the original inhabitants of the United States.

(download full report)


July 1999
National Congress of American Indians unanimous resolution asks that
“the Secretary of Agriculture and the Forest Service must determine that the public interest requires termination of that (telescope) permit and the prompt removal of the telescopes.”

July 1999
White Mountain Apache Tribal Council unanimously resolves that Dzil Nchaa Si An is an Apache Sacred Site, “…having substantial and indivisible historical, cultural and religious importance to Apaches…”


October 2000
Rolf-Peter Kudritsky of the Munich University Observatory in Germany is named new director of the University of Hawai’i’s Institute for Astronomy.


June 2001
San Carlos Apache Tribal Council, 7-2, opposes all construction developments on top of Mt. Graham.

November 2001
National Congress of American Indians adopts resolution in support of Mount Graham's eligibility to be a traditional cultural property and against further astronomy development.
Download full resolution


April 2002
National Park Service, concurring with the U.S. Forest Service, determines Mt. Graham to be an Apache Traditional Cultural Property and eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, stating:
“The entire mountain, not just isolated places on the mountain, holds special importance to the Western Apache tribes and meets the National Register’s definition of a traditional cultural property.”

May 2002
Four major U.S. environmental groups and several smaller ones send letter to the presidents of the University of Minnesota and the University of Virginia asking them not to join the Mount Graham telescope project.

October 2002
University of Minnesota Regents vote to join the Mt. Graham telescope project. University of Virginia invests $4 million in the project.


May 2003
University of Minnesota Student/Faculty Senate Social Concerns Committee pass resolution strongly opposing the Mt. Graham International Observatory project and seeking to get the U of M to withdraw its participation from the project.

July, August 2003
Annual Mount Graham Sacred Run, from near Tucson to Mount Graham, attracts more than 200 American Indians from Apache, Yaqui, Tohono O'odham, Navajo, Pueblo, Hopi, Lakota and Mayo tribes.

"It is an honor to fight for what is ours," says Augustine Concha, Apache Spirit Runner from San Carlos. “When they started putting telescopes up there, we knew we had to fight. Runners are leading this fight."

–Indian Country Today


April 2004
San Carlos Apache reject University of Arizona proposal for $120,000 in educational grants to the tribe. Apache elder and chairwoman of the Apache Survival Coalition Ola Cassadore Davis refers to the proposal as "offering cash in exchange for our Apache religion and culture."

"You talk to us now, offering us bribes of cash in exchange for letting go our defense of our Apache religion and culture: something like giving us a little ice cream to quiet us down," she said in the Apache language. "Money, like ice cream, does not last, but our mountain stands there for us and we must stand for our mountain.

July 2004
Wildfire burns over 29,725 acres on Mt. Graham, coming within 125 feet of the Large Binocular Telescope. The lightning-sparked fire costs more than $8.5 million to contain. "This occurs when people misbehave," Wendsler Nosie, Apache, says. "You don't mess with these places because there are repercussions."
KVOA Channel 4 news story

July 2004
Indigenous runners from New Mexico, California, Arizona and Mexico participate in the 15th annual Mount Graham Sacred Run, shortly after disastrous forest fires threaten telescopes. Apache say nature is now the force that astronomers desecrating the sacred mountain will have to deal with. Raleigh Thompson, of the Apache Survival Coalition, says:

“Lightning is the very power of God in Apache belief. We believe that this fire was not accidental, but a warning that the mountain can defend itself. We have warned the Forest Service and the universities and the Vatican time and time again that what they are doing up there is desecration, but they don't listen to us."

Ophelia Gilbert, run participant, says: "My family got involved because we don't like that telescope on our sacred mountain. When the news came on about the Nuttall fire on top of Mount Graham, I wanted the telescopes to burn. It is not natural to have that there."

The scars of the fire and the loss of many trees cause the towering, 14 story, white Large Binocular Telescope building to stand out even more on the top of the mountain, a very visible reminder of the destruction of a sacred mountain by outside forces.

Apache people said they mourn the death of the trees, the animals, and the injuries to those who fought the fire.

Indian Country Today
August 17, 2004


January 2005
Yavapai-Apache Nation sends letter to the Supervisor of Coronado National Forest, saying:
“We are all affected…by events conducted on the Mountain. Desecration of the Mountain will ultimately provoke a negative consequence for those responsible… We support a moratorium on all additional development until a plan is formulated that addresses Apache sensibilities."

January 2005
San Carlos Apache oppose microwave towers on Mt. Graham

June 8, 2005
White Mountain Apache tribal chairman urges University of Minnesota regents to divest from the Mt. Graham International Observatory.

September 2005
The University of Arizona's Large Binocular Telescope receives the second of two 8.4-meter mirrors after a 2 1/2-day trip from Tucson to Mount Graham.

October 2005
University of Arizona's first Large Binocular Telescope mirror achieves first light.

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see also

• Mt. Graham Coalition
• Mt. Graham International Observatory
• San Carlos Apache Nation
• White Mountain Apache Tribe


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