Telescope project spurs protest outside KSTP

Brad Unangst

A day after reports the University will likely proceed in the purchase of telescope time on Arizona’s Mount Graham, opponents voiced their concern and disappointment.

Fifteen people gathered outside Hubbard Broadcasting on Wednesday to protest the use of the company’s $5 million donation to the University for the controversial Mount Graham International Observatory project.

Protestors, holding signs and singing traditional American Indian prayers while beating a drum, voiced concerns over University Vice President Sandra Gardebring’s recent decision to recommend the University buy into the project.

Gardebring said Tuesday the scientific value of the telescope would enhance the University’s teaching and research goals.

Patricia Albers, chair of the American Indian studies department, said while she has not had an opportunity to talk with department members, she finds the recommendation unsettling.

“It is somewhat disturbing that they are being somewhat dismissive with respect to the spiritual interest of the Apache people,” she said.

A 60-foot bright yellow vinyl banner that read, “UM/Hubbard: Mount Graham is Sacred No $ For Desecration” was hung from a KSTP broadcast tower earlier in the morning, but was removed before the protest began.

Gardebring said she would meet with interim University President Robert Bruininks via telephone Wednesday afternoon to give her recommendation. She said she expects Bruininks will make his decision Thursday.

Dwight Metzger, a member of the Mount Graham Coalition, said he was disappointed to learn about the decision in newspapers, rather than from Gardebring.

Metzger, who helped organize the protest, met with Gardebring and Sandra Rambler, a traditional San Carlos Apache who opposes the telescope, Tuesday afternoon to discuss the University’s interest in the project.

“To withhold that information when I asked her (at the meeting) was at the very least deceptive, but at the very worst it is lying,” he said.

Gardebring said she did not deceive anyone.

“I don’t lie to anybody. I certainly don’t lie to people about things that are important to them. And I have tried through this whole process to be as forthright as I could,” she said.

Metzger and Rambler met with Gardebring to convince the University that participating in the project would only further desecrate the mountain. Traditional Apaches hold religious ceremonies on the mountain and consider it sacred.

Citing Stanley Hubbard’s long-standing support of American Indian peoples, Rambler, dressed in traditional Apache clothing, said she came to Minneapolis to find out why Hubbard would donate money to a project that hurts Apache culture.

“He’s broke my heart for what he did,” she said. “The only way he can amend that is by redirecting that money to be spent for other Native American programs that would benefit natives, not harm us or intentionally hurt us.”

She said the money should be used to create scholarships and educational programs that help Minnesota’s American Indians.

Hubbard sent a fax in early September to an Apache representative stating the matter was solely the University’s decision and that the government and Apache tribe approved the project.

Rambler said the claim was not true, and presented two letters from tribal council members stating their opposition to the telescope.

Hubbard representatives were unavailable for comment, but in a statement said:

“We have a contract with the University. The entire situation rests in the hands of the University. We’re committed to the University and that commitment is not going to change.”

Supporters say the telescope will bring the University’s astronomy department into the nation’s top tier.

Leonard Kuhi, head of the University’s astronomy department, said he is delighted by the news, but is understanding of the Apache attachment to the mountain.

“We look forward to many wonderful years of research with this telescope and we also look forward to working cooperatively with the San Carlos Apaches,” he said.

The astronomy department will have access to the telescope – nine nights on the Large Binocular Telescope and approximately eight nights on the other, related telescope – after the LBT’s completion,

scheduled for 2004.

Gardebring said the University will use its influence to help the Apaches gain more access to the mountain and increase consultation between the tribe and officials from the University of Arizona. Arizona spearheaded the telescope project.

The University’s Social Concerns Committee chairman, Mark Pedelty, said he would not comment on the project until the Board of Regents vote on it. The project is expected to be presented in front of the board in October.

The committee, made up of faculty, students and staff from all four University campuses, issued a report in March 2002 stating, “On ethical, material, political and cultural grounds, we cannot afford to join the MGIO project.”

Albers said the mountain for the San Carlos tribe is the equivalent of the Vatican to Catholics or the Mormon Temple to Mormons.

Members of the University’s American Indian community will probably meet in the next couple weeks to decide how to proceed, Albers said.

University American Indian students said the decision left them feeling embarrassed.

“I’m ashamed that I’m a part of a university that is supporting this telescope project that does not have any respect for native traditions and beliefs,” former American Indian Student Association President Carolyn Anderson said.

Others who support the traditional Apaches said the recommendation is just another example of disrespect for the American Indian culture.

Jim Anderson, a member of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota community, said Hubbard’s gift only perpetuates the destruction of the mountain. He said he is praying for Hubbard to reconsider the gift.

Omar Jamal, director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in Minneapolis, said he sympathizes with the Apaches and hopes the University will reconsider the decision.

In January 2001, the University received Hubbard’s donation to purchase a five percent share in viewing time on the LBT.

The LBT, which cost $110 million, is one of three telescopes housed on Mount Graham, part of the Pinaleño Mountain range in southeastern Arizona. The mountain is 30 miles from the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives heard testimony from tribe members requesting that sacred land, including Mount Graham, be federally protected.