Protesters against Mt. Graham International Observatory
The Apache tribe from eastern Arizona arrived at NAU to protest the school’s association with a telescope built on sacred land in conjunction with Winona LaDuke’s appearance and speech on Feb. 1. LaDuke, a world development economist and Native American activist, was asked by the Martin Springer Institute to speak in Ardrey Auditorium in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Her plans changed slightly when she learned of NAU’s involvement with the Mount Graham International Telescope, which is located on land the Apache tribe considers sacred. LaDuke said she does not support the telescope, nor NAU’s decision to be involved with it.
“I have always seen NAU as a more enlightened university than the others in Arizona, and I wish I could keep that,” LaDuke said in an exclusive interview with Student Media Center reporters. “But to participate in something as egregious as the desecration of a sacred place for a telescope that is, one, not needed, and two, there is no reason. NAU should remove its interests and support the religious freedom rights of the Apache.”
LaDuke spoke at a reception to a select group of students at the High Country Conference Center, focusing on indigenous sustainability but answering qutestions on all topics.
Close to the end of the reception, a group of Apache elders entered the room. They passed out fliers and spoke about their cause, which, according to the handouts, is to stop the desecration of sacred Apache grounds and prevent the extinction of the Mt. Graham Red Squirrels — found nowhere else.
Diana Rambler, a Mount Graham Apache tribe member and protester, said the telescope bill was passed stealthily and never took the native people or the land’s history into consideration.
“Back in the early ‘90s, there was something called the Arizona-Idaho Conservation Act that was passed in the midnight hours of Congress,” Rambler said. She pointed out that neither Senators McCain nor Kyl — nor Congressman Kolbe — acknowledged the importance of indigenous tribes.
“They all got together and passed this bill,” Rambler said. “They got a writer from the University of Arizona to be part of the controlled project. And it’s just so ironic that they named it the Christopher Columbus Project. … When they destroyed the land, they destroyed our history. And that has always been their goal.”
However, NAU’s involvement with the telescope is minimal. According to documents found on the telescope project websites, the school did not fund the project, and faculty only research there occasionally. UA is the largest financial contributor to the controversial project.
According to the Telescope Project website: “The University of Arizona, INAF, the LBT Beteiligungsgesellschaft, the Ohio State University and Research Corporation have committed sufficient funds, $87,800,000 ($1,998), to permit construction of the complete telescope and enclosure with two sets of optics and instrumentation.”
But to the protesters, any ties between NAU and the observatory are unacceptable. Although relatively new to the controversial topic, Justin Strong, a junior criminology major, said he was protesting because he believes it is wrong for the telescope to be built on sacred Apache land.
“I don’t know if a lot of people know about it outside of who is most affected by it,” Strong said. “I wanted to come out and support their cause. I didn’t realize this was taking place and that this religious site for the Apache tribe was being desecrated.”