Telescope protest presents ‘symbolic gesture’ at Eastcliff

Tom Ford

Squeezing into a teepee and passing around a tobacco pipe, approximately 30 people crowded outside University President Mark Yudof’s Eastcliff residence Wednesday night to pray for Arizona’s San Carlos Apache tribe.

The demonstraters gathered to protest the University’s possible involvement in an Arizona telescope observatory, which they say harms the Apache culture.

“(The gathering is) what we have to do these days,” said Jim Anderson, cultural chairman of the Mdewakanton Dakota community. “If you don’t say anything they just bull you right over.”

Beginning with an afternoon rally and speeches by American Indian Movement Member and students from the Native Arts High School in Minneapolis, the protest continued with ceremonies and dances throughout the night.

The vigil is expected to last until Thursday afternoon.

Through a January 2001 grant from Stanley Hubbard, the University purchased a share of the Large Binocular Telescope being built at Arizona’s Mount Graham International Observatory.

The Board of Regents must approve the purchase.

Opponents of the University’s involvement have said the observatory located 30 miles from the San Carlos Apache Reservation, was built on areas held sacred by the Apache and desecrates their religion and culture.

“We gathered as a symbolic gesture, showing Yudof what it’s like when something foreign comes to your home,” said Cara Saunders, an organizer with the Mount Graham Coalition, an Arizona-based telescope opposition group.

Saunders said she hoped the teepee would disrupt Yudof’s scenic view outside his home. She said this would give him a sense of the feelings of the Apache, who see the observatory atop their sacred mountain.

Dwight Metzger, a member of the Mount Graham Coalition, said while the vigil might not have an immediate impact, it will maintain momentum for the opposition.

“This will keep the fire and the relationships alive,” Metzger said.

Sandra Gardebring, vice president for University Relations, said Yudof was not asked to address the participants.

But Gardebring said Yudof would be happy to meet with representatives of the Apache and Minnesota American Indian tribes about their cultural concerns.

Members of the University’s astronomy department have said observatory involvement would give the University access to one of the best telescopes in the world and allow them unprecedented research opportunities.

They have said the observatory occupies a small area of Mount Graham and believe compromises between the Apache and the astronomy community are
possible.

Tom Ford welcomes comments at [email protected]