San Carlos — On Dec. 22, 2010, the Mount Graham Coalition, the Maricopa audubon Society and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), filed a Notice of Intent to Sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for failing to reinitiate Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding the Mount Graham Telescope Project which is situated atop Mount Graham, a mountain considered sacred since time immemorial to the San Carlos Apaches.
Groups that have strongly opposed the telescope project since its inception include the Apache Survival Coalition, headed for several decades by tribal elder and spiritual leader, Ola Cassadore Davis and the Apaches for Cultural Survival, originally formed by former Tribal Chairman, Wendsler Nosie, Sr., and Gilson Wash District Councilmember, Ernest Victor, Jr.
The Notices were provided to Ken Salazar, U.S. Department of Interior Secretary, Tom Vilsack, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Tidwell, Chief of U.S. Forest Service, Corbin Newman, U.S. Forest Regional Forester, Jim Upchurch, Supervisor of U.S. Coronado National Forest, Rowan Gould, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Steve Spangle, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service State Supervisor, Robert Shelton, President to the university of Arizona and Benjamin Tuggle, Regional Director to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“If the U.S. Forest Service fails to consult with the FWS, the groups will file suit next month,” says CBD’s Robin Silver.
The Mount Graham International Observatory, in spite of many protests by members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and various tribal resolutions being passed, was built in the Coronado National Forest in the early 1990’s after receiving an exemption from the U.S. Congress in 1988 which allowed officials to remove the trees from around high-powered telescopes without triggering a FWS review as long as the area cleared does not exceed 8.6 acres.
Silver contended that the area cleared is 40 percent larger than what the exemption allowed. He continues, “the effects of this project has gone far beyond what they were supposed to be. They are now over the 8.6 acres, so they lose their exemption.”
Meanwhile, in 1987, Patricia Sanderson Port, the Regional Environmental Advisor for the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Environmental Project Review reported problems with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that continue to plague the university of Arizona to this day. The Department of Interior (DOI) observed that the DEIS was not complete and was not legally adequate.
DOI observed that, “the major deficiency is the failure to adequately address practicable alternatives that may be available on other mountains. The Mount Graham area is a nationally significant desert “sky island” ecosystem with unique wildlife resources and associated public uses and economies. The developmental alternatives in the DEIS including the preferred alternatives would result in detrimental impacts to the spruce/fir zone and associated habitats on Mount Graham.
“This is inappropriate pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements regarding the analysis of all reasonable alternatives, because the DEIS has been restricted to consideration of more and less damaging alternatives that are located only on Mount Graham.
“Mount Graham contains several significant floras and faunas. The 580 acres of spruce/fir habitat on the summit are the southernmost extension of this type of North American and it is the only sky island with both Englemann spruce and corkbark fir.”
DOI also advised the USFS, “The Native American Indian Religious Freedom Act should be addressed regarding Native American Indian religious use of the proposal area.”
DOI’s advice concerning the Native American use of Mount Graham addressed what was becoming publicly apparent. Correspondence received by the DOI from Paul Piece, Director for the Coalition for the Preservation of Mount Graham to Coronado National Forest, stated the following comments:
“We have since identified a group of San Carlos Apache people who are still using the high peaks of the Pinalenos for religious reasons. Evidently this religious use of the mountain (Mount Graham) is contemporary and has been happening over the last few hundred years.
“Mount Graham is considered to be a sacred mountain to members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Mount Graham is still being used for certain religious rites by these people. The proposed development is viewed as potentially damaging to the Apache religion and the ceremonies that take place there.
“The astrophysical development can be viewed as a violation of their religious freedom rights as Native Americans by the San Carlos Apaches affected by it. These impacts should be addressed.”
The Coalition was refuting a summary statement made in the DEIS, which stated, “No Indian Tribes have come forward with information on potential impacts to their religious use of Mount Graham at this time.”
The suit contends that this DEIS summary statement was a lie and that Mount Graham is of central religious and cultural importance to the traditional Apache.
The Coronado National Forest Supervisor presiding over the Mount Graham DEIS proceedings at the time knew that the DEIS was lying in regard to Indian religious use of Mount Graham. The Supervisor was Robert Tippeconnic, a Comanche Indian who was raised on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation.
Supervisor Tippeconnic admits, “...he knew many traditional Apaches considered Mount Graham to be sacred, but would be reluctant to describe their feelings to non-Indians.”
As reported by John Dougherty in the Phoenix New Times in 1993, it was reported that Mr. Tippeconic said nothing about the belief of the Apaches regarding Mount Graham and he was promoted to the USFS National Liaison for Indian Tribes after leaving the Coronado National Forest.
In 1985, Jeanne Armstrong, Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona, wrote regarding the Goodwin Papers Summary, “The University of Arizona also knew the DEIS was lying in denying knowledge of Native American religious use of Mount Graham. Since 1968, the Apaches had entrusted the University of Arizona with documents of their belief in Mount Graham’s central sacred and cultural importance.”
The Apaches had counted on their interests being protected by the information held at the University of Arizona that they had related to Grenville Goodwin and by the knowledge of their beliefs by USFS Coronado Supervisor Tippeonnic.
But the Apache had miscalculated and it became obvious that the Apache were being betrayed by the University of Arizona and by the U.S. Forest Service.
On Oct. 4, 1989, Ola Cassadore Davis publicly spoke out and granted an interview with the Tucson Citizen. She pointed out, “To us Apache, Mount Graham is a very sacred place. It’s really important to my people to not have those things (telescopes) built up there.”
On June 8, 1990, Michael Cusanovich, the Vice-President of the University of Arizona, responded, “The University of Arizona is not aware of any adverse impact on the cultural heritage of Native Americans.”
Then on July 10, 1990, the San Carlos Apache Tribal Council passed Resolution No. 90-68 which opposed the telescope project on top of Mount Graham wherein the Tribal Council declared the following:
“WHEREAS, for generations our elders have instructed us on the sacredness of Dzil Nchaa Si An (Big Seated Mountain/Mount Graham) and its vital importance for maintaining the integrity of our Apache culture and tradition; and,
WHEREAS, this mountain, Mount Graham, is essential to the continued practice of physical and spiritual healing by Apache Medicine men/women, and to their apprenticeship as competent traditional religious specialists; and,
See Mount Graham, A2
WHEREAS, this mountain, Mount Graham, is the site of a sacred spring, a variety of sacred plants and animals all of which are necessary for performance of certain traditional religious Apache ceremonies; and,
WHEREAS, this mountain, Mount Graham, is the site of a substantial number of Apache burials; and,
WHEREAS, 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.
WHEREAS, the proposed destruction of this mountain will contribute directly to the destruction of fundamental aspects of tradition and spiritual life of the Apaches.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the San Carlos Apache Tribe states its firm and total opposition to the construction of a telescope on the top of Mount Graham and the Tribe stands ready to defend its constitutional rights if this project is allowed to continue.”
On June 4, 1991, the San Carlos Apache Tribal Council wrote to the U.S. Forest Service, stating the following.
“As you know, Dzil Nchaa Si An (Mount Graham) is sacred to Apache people. Since the early stages of telescopes development, the University of Arizona and the U.S. Forest Service have known of its religious and cultural importance to our Tribe. The legal mandate for the U.S. Forest Service compliance with protective cultural, archeological and religious statues has never been revoked. The Forest Servic3 has completely failed to comply with its legal mandate to protect the cultural, archeological and historic resources affected by the telescope project. The Forest Service has violated its duty to respect the religious freedom of Indian people.”
“We anxiously await your order to revoke the Board of Regents/University of Arizona construction permit and to stop all desctructive activity on Dzil Nchaa Si An (Mount Graham)...so it would be very clear who would continue to deny us our religious and cultural rights.”
On October 31, 1991, the University of Arizona Coordinator of Indian Programs, Gordon Krutz, puiblicly confirmed the validity of the Apache claims and stated the following.
“On October 30, 1991, I called Jack Moortel, Special Assistant to Governor Fife Symington, to reveal that my study of the Goodwin papers evidence support to the Apache Survival Coalition’s claim to the spiritual significance of Mount Graham.”
On November 12, 1991, the University of Arizona’s Office of Indian Programs (OIP) publicly confirmed the validity of the Apache claims by stating the following.
“Through on its own research, investigation, and consultation, OIP staff has compiled information during the past several months that documents many of the basic claims made by members of the San Carlos Apache Tribal Community as to the religious and sacred nature of Mount Graham in Apache culture and traditions.”
By April of 1992, nearly every traditional religious leader of the San Carlos Apache Tribe signed a petition to stop the telescopes from interfering with their ability to practice their religion, which stated the following.
“We, the undersigned spiritual leaders of the Apache people acknowledge the central sacred importance of Dzil Nchaa Si An (Mount Graham) to the traditional religious practice of the Apache. We oppose the Mount Graham telescope project because it will interfere with the ability of the tradtional Apache to practice their religion.”
The University of Arizona’s Mount Graham efforts could return to their supreme focus on “money and prominence as the Court had allowed the construction of the telescopesa in April of 1994.
But the Apache opposition to the University of Arizona and its telescope partners ongoing desecration of the Apache sacred mountain remains resolute.
On September 13, 2010, the White Mountain Apache Tribe responded harshly to the University of Arizona and the USFS latest attempt to resolve “the Indian problem” with a newly proposed “Memorandum of Agreement” (MOA) to smooth their way for renwal of the expired telescope special use permit.
In correspondence, the White Mountain Apache Tribal Chairman, Ronnie Lupe,. writes the following.
“The White Mountain Apache Tribe has been closely involved with and consistently opposed to the University of Arizona’s Mount Graham Observatory for more than two decades.
The parties to the telescope operations within the Dzil Nchaa Si An sacred wite shall work with the Forest Servbice to specify a date by which the operations shall cease and the “footprint” restored to its pre-development condition, including removal of all roads, power lines, communication facilities, etc.
The White Mountain Apache Tribe rejects the MOA and respectfully requests that the project proponent University of Arizona and the other state and federal agencies go back to the drawing board, fulfill both general trust responsibilities and Mr. Nau’s (President Advisory Council for Historic Preservation Chairman John Nau) specific pledge to “address the tribe’s concerns,” and focus on closing the gaps between our four-part position and the reality of the continuing and expanding damages and description from the Observatory.
The unacceptable quest to avoid NEPA compliance, coupled with inattention to Executive Order 13007 on the protection of American Indian Sacred Sites, is further evidence of a neglect of tribal and public trust responsibility by the Forest Service, ACHP, and other agencies involved in the use or management of Dzil Nchaa Si An.
As the White Mountain Apache Tribe continues to await affirmative federal government attention to fiduciary duties, our obligtation as a beneficiary to inform you, our trustee, of past and present fiduciary failures, especially the insistence on providing beneficial services to the exclusive interests of the University of Arizona at American Indian expense.
Instead of properly insisting upon specific and meaningful avoidance and reduction of the Observatory’s many impacts on Dzil Nchaa Si An and the American Indian people and communities who pray through and rely upon this sacred mountin, the Forest Service and Univerity appear bent on finding ways to limit for another two decades, the impacts of our reasonable and kconstructive requests on harmful and desecrating Observatory operations.
We respectfully request that the federal and state governments embrace responsibilities for creating public and tribal benefits and for protection American Indian sacred sites and those who revere and depend upon these critically endangered holy places.
On August 31, 1987, the USFWS completed its draft Biological Opinion on the DEIS proposed and made the following statement.
“Destruction of habitat on Emerald Peak for siting on observatory would have greater detrimental impacts than the proposed siting on High Peak. Furthermore, those impacts on Emeral Peak could not be reduced below jeopardy with reasonable and prudent alternatives.”
The University of Arizona astronomers were not happy, once again.
Recent wildfires have come dangerously close and have almost reached the observatory on more than one occasion and the Forest Service has taken some measures to try to keep the telescopes out of harm’s way. The suit includes satellite images and photographs taken between 2003 and 2007 wich shows several acres of trees that were clear-cut around the telescopes and possibly beyond what may have been removed during the 2004 firefighting efforts from the encroaching Nuttall Fire.
“We don’t know who did it or when they did it, but it’s irrevelant because that habitat is gone. There isan’t any rational explanation for why they did that,” says CBD’s Robin Silver.
In October of 2010, Wendsler Nosie, Sr., stated the following in the Apache Moccasin, while commenting on the renewal of the 20 year permit pursued by the University of Arizona.
“I can’t believe the University of Arizona and the U.S. Forest Service would continue the destruction of our sacred land. We have xplained to them over and over and theyu just don’t get it.
In our traditional ceeremonies, our medicine men, they have the words of Dzil Nchaa Si An within their songs. It is part of the livelihood of our young Apaches. This sacred mountain has been there since time immemorial and thiey have destructed it with all their bulldozing while putting up the telescopes.
Our people still travel ujp to the mountain to get holy water and herbs which are traditional medicine to us. In addition to not complying with obtaining the Cultural Impact Studues with the Apache tribes, there were concerns over the Native American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.
We are thankful to our tribal members for their strength and intent to continue our ceremonies year round. Our Apache religion is something that the U.S. government cannever take away from us. We will continue to fight for what we believe as Apaches, because that is who we are.”