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Astronomy development on another sacred mountain: Kitt Peak

Located on 200 acres of the Tohono O'odham Reservation about 55 miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona, Kitt Peak National Observatory was created with the approval of and an agreement signed by the Tohono O'odham nation, then the Papago Tribe, in October 1958.  

Kitt Peak is now home to 22 optical and two radio telescopes representing eight astronomical research institutions.

Mildred Antone, a Tohono O'odham who lives near the base of Kitt Peak:
"Kitt Peak observatory never should have been built," she said. "The one thing that keeps bothering me, is that they want to keep building and building and building. They keep desecrating the mountain over and over again."

Daniel Lopez, language instructor at Tohono O'odham Community College:
"We have names for the mountains, we have songs, we sing about them,"

K. Tsianina Lomawaima, interim director for the University of Arizona's American Indian Studies program:
 "Land, landscape and specific sites have a life of their own and a destiny and will of their own. It's a very delicate subject.”
Arizona Daily Star
June 17, 2005

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In 2005, workers graded part of a 25-acre site, installed power lines and poured concrete foundations before a lawsuit filed by the Tohono O'odham Nation seeking to stop construction [of seven more telescopes, called the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System, or VERITAS] prompted the National Science Foundation to halt its $13 million venture. Tohono O’odham call for consultations to be conducted as required by National Historic Preservation law.

Tribal Chairwoman Vivian Juan-Saunders said the work suspension is an important victory for the tribe.
For far too long, Juan-Saunders said, the concerns of tribes over development of their sacred sites have been ignored.
"This is an era of new determination. We're not going to accept the attitudes of years past. Today, we are asserting our sovereignty by questioning the violations of federal laws."

She also has said the terms of the lease need to be revisited.

"We expect attitudes will change," Juan-Saunders said. "No longer will they be allowed to come in here slapping a lease in our face saying we have no authority, no rights, saying they can basically do whatever they want up there. That was the attitude when we became aware of VERITAS."

"We want to protect the mountain and ensure there is no more desecration," Juan-Saunders said. "No more construction - that's our position."

The decision to voluntarily stop the work, rather than fight in federal court, will mean working closely with the tribe in producing an environmental and cultural assessment of the area, [National Science Foundation counsel] Amy Northcutt said.

"We are being very deferential to ensure that the tribe is on board every step of the way," Carney-Nunes, assistant general counsel for the National Science Foundation said.
Project leaders will conduct interviews with tribal members who are knowledgeable about cultural and historical resources, she added. Other state tribes also are being informed about the project.
Kitt Peak is the second site chosen for the VERITAS project. A consortium led by the Smithsonian Institution turned to the site after a plan to build the project in the Santa Rita Mountains fell through for various reasons, including tribal and environmental opposition.

All content copyright © 1999-2005 AzStarNet
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Arizona Daily Star, Tuesday 7-05-05
Kitt Peak tension calls for intervention

The star's view: A relationship of four decades is deteriorating. Scientists and American Indians need help from others who have a stake in seeing both come out winners.
Southern Arizona has too much at stake to leave the fate of a new multi-telescope project in the hands of Washington attorneys, a host of federal bureaucracies and two feuding parties who seem to be moving further apart - the National Science Foundation and the Tohono O'odham Nation.
U.S. District Court is where decisions are being made about the $13 million venture planned for land sacred to the O'odham nation, at Kitt Peak southwest of Tucson. This new array of scopes would detect gamma rays, quasars and exploding stars.
The relationship between the two sides is deteriorating, in part because the O'odham believe they have not been properly consulted and in part because the foundation is running up against a regulatory gantlet. This is bad not only for the VERITAS project - as it is known - but for other space research projects that scientists hope to land in Southern Arizona.
Government agencies charged with monitoring the environment, historical sites, culture and Indian affairs all have a hand in VERITAS, or the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System. The National Science Foundation already has worked through the grueling federal Environmental Impact Statement process only to stop the project after spending $1 million and breaking ground.
As it has since 1957, when the National Observatory first set up shop here, the creation of research centers on mountaintops around Tucson is likely to involve the competing interests of effective science, environmental protection and preserving American Indian lands. The region's leaders in politics and economic development should consider taking a lead role in developing broad guidelines that will help mitigate these conflicts and bring the current disagreement to a resolution acceptable to everyone.
Our congressional delegation, the Governor's Office and the Udall Center, with its conflict-resolution capabilities, are likely candidates to step in and help bring all sides together. So are local political leaders and business interests; mediating this conflict counts as business retention - a central goal of local economic development efforts.
The reason: Optical science rates high on the list of the region's attractions in business recruitment. Some call us "Optics Valley," with the University of Arizona a leader in the field.
Tucson is ringed by world-class research sites, including Mount Graham, where the largest single telescope in the world will be located.
Tribal leaders are right to demand extraordinary levels of communication and accountability from those who would scrape away parts of their most sacred lands - including the place known as I'itoi Garden, after the central figure in the Tohono O'odham creation myth. Anyone who has visited Kitt Peak and the rest of the range is likely to come away with a strong feeling of spirituality. The burden is on those who would invade these spaces to do right by the Tohono O'odham. That hasn't happened to the satisfaction of its leaders with the VERITAS project.
In stating its position, the tribe has even raised the prospect of reopening the outdated 1958 treaty that paved the way for development of Kitt Peak and its 21 telescopes. The terms of the contract: a $25,000 one-time payment plus $10 per acre each year for up to 2,400 acres. The tribe also shares in sales from the Kitt Peak gift shop.
Tucson and the National Science Foundation have much to lose if this relationship deteriorates any further. Considering the regional impact of the work done at Kitt Peak, it's time to consider a broader approach to a resolution.

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Lawsuit to halt Kitt Peak telescopes filed.
© Indian Country Today April 12, 2005. All Rights Reserved

Sacred Baboquivari Mountains defiled as telescope development and border patrols increase on tribal lands
By Brenda Norrell

Indian Country Today staff

SELLS, Ariz. - While San Carlos Apache led decades of court battles and protests to protect their sacred Dzil Nchaa Si An (Mount Graham) from massive telescope construction, many American Indians questioned whether the Tohono O'odham would battle in federal court the expansion of mammoth telescopes on Kitt Peak, the O'odham sacred mountain ''Iolkam,'' near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Kitt Peak crowns the north portion of the Baboquivari Mountains and is located in the tribe's Schuk Toak District.

Their speculation ended in March, when the Tohono O'odham Nation filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the National Science Foundation seeking an injunction to immediately halt construction of telescopes on Kitt Peak. Further, the Nation requested that the BIA cancel the Kitt Peak lease.

The suit names the Smithsonian Institution Astrophysical Observatory, Kitt Peak National Observatory and NSF Astronomical Sciences Director G. Wayne Van Citters as defendants.

The Nation claimed the National Science Foundation manipulated the process for the environmental assessment and as a result, the mountain, known as ''I'itoi's Garden,'' was not declared a sacred site. U.S. cultural and tribal self-governance laws were also violated in site preparation for the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS), the Nation said.

The O'odham lawsuit states, ''Since the announcement of plans to construct a new array of telescopes and related buildings, the Nation has asserted that further building would destroy the spiritual nature of the site.''

Pressing to halt VERITAS telescope construction, the O'odham claimed the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 was violated and stated that the environmental assessment and subsequent finding of ''no significant impact'' should have been sent out for review before a final document was issued. The final document alone was sent to the tribe, the Schuk Toak District, the BIA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

''This was not done. In addition, the federal official who signed the finding of no significant impact relied on a defective cultural resources report that failed to identify Kitt Peak as an Indian sacred site. Therefore the finding of no significant impact violated federal law,'' the nation said.

The United States' cultural laws were also violated. Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, a federal project's Cultural Resource Report must be sent to the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office for review. However, that report was sent neither to SHPO, the Nation nor the BIA for review.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 stipulates that a copy of the biological report for the VERITAS project must be sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for review. However, the report was not sent to the USFWS, the nation or the BIA.

Tohono O'odham Chairman Vivian Juan-Saunders said the telescope project has proceeded in defiance of tribal, state and federal laws.

''I'itoi's Garden has cultural and religious significance to our people - we have no choice but to try to halt the construction of this project,'' Juan-Saunders said in a statement.

The Tohono O'odham, entering the arena to battle a consortium of international universities and the Smithsonian Institution, took the legal action to halt telescope construction following years of pressure from O'odham spiritual leaders.

The Papago Tribal Council, whose name was changed to the Tohono O'odham Nation in 1986, rejected the plan to build telescopes on the sacred mountain three times in 1958.

''The tribe eventually agreed while voicing the cultural and spiritual significance of the mountain,'' Juan-Saunders said.

However, the Tohono O'odham Nation said the National Science Foundation failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act and the Nation's right to self-governance.

The BIA and the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office have asked NSF to comply with federal laws and regulations or halt telescope construction. In February, the BIA said VERITAS is not in ''lawful compliance'' because NSF did not comply with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Meanwhile, Curt Suplee, director of legislative and public affairs for the NSF, said the foundation hopes to reach an out-of-court resolution that will allow the complex to be built.

The Nation has gained support from Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., who has asked the NSF to address the concerns of the Tohono O'odham, BIA and other agencies.

''I am concerned about the apparent process by which the NSF has pursued and approved the construction of the VERITAS project on the Tohono O'odham Reservation, particularly in light of the Nation's express opposition and the concerns raised by federal and state agencies.''

Please visit the Indian Country Today website for more articles related to this topic.


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