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Italian group holds forum to halt Mt. Graham construction

By Sarah Spivack
Arizona Daily Wildcat
November 5, 1998
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Italian activists journeyed to Arizona this week and renewed calls to halt construction of telescopes atop Mt. Graham.

In a forum last night, sponsored by the Student Environmental Action Coalition, an Apache leader and an Italian delegation spoke to a group of more than 20 students and community members about the importance of Mt. Graham as a unique environmental habitat and a sacred site.

Workers for the Sindacato di Base labor union make parts in Italy for the University of Arizona's Large Binocular Telescope. About one-third of the 100 laborers involved in making the telescope have gone on strike, said Francesco Casarolli, national secretary for the union.

After meeting with traditional Apaches from the San Carlos and White Mountain reservations and visiting Mt. Graham, the Italian delegation is more convinced than ever that "this is a just fight," Casarolli said.

The strike will delay, but not prohibit the completion of the telescope, said Giovanni Panza, an Italian native who has lived in Tucson for 10 years and translated for the Italian speakers.

The real blow for astronomers will come if the Italian parliament passes a motion to freeze shipment of the parts until the construction site is moved from Mt. Graham, he said.

If the Italians pull out of the telescope project, UA astronomers stand to lose a sizable chunk of money, Panza said.

The Italians related the Apache issue to global concerns about the oppression of non-white and non-wealthy people.

"They (the Apaches) are an oppressed people, a people who have been violated," said Fulvio De Marcellis, the Italian parliamentary Green Party representative. "They have never won a struggle against the white people."

Marcellis and his fellow Green Party official Emilio Molinari fear the development of a world with a globally uniform culture, where diversity is squelched.

"I am terrified when people don't have a connection to their roots," Molinari said. "The Apache people are fighting for the diversity of culture which prevents human beings from becoming weak. We need cultural diversity to keep human beings rich."

Marcellis pointed out flaws in capitalist economies, saying such systems require ever-increasing production and consumption and create class divisions.

"We are forcing three-quarters of the world's population to live in poverty to support this system," he said. "We have to find a new model for our life and this model has to be an environmental model."

Molinari marveled at labor's involvement in an environmental and cultural struggle.

"Environmentalism will become really effective when it penetrates the world of labor," Molinari said. "When we think about what we produce and where it will go, this is the gamble that we have with the future."

Casarolli's labor union is not unfamiliar with political struggle. It has taken part in other protests, including preventing the construction of a nuclear power plant in France. This is the first time the union has become involved in a protest for the sake of a relatively small indigenous group of people.

Raleigh Thompson, a "full-blood Apache, raised traditionally," has spent more than 16 years in leadership positions for his tribe. He called the development of the summit of Mount Graham an "unbelievable" sacrilege.

"Each mountain has energy, a name, a healer, animals, trees, water," Thompson said. "To the Apache, a mountain is alive."

Mt. Graham holds a very central place in Apache cosmology, said Gita Bodner, an ecology and environmental biology graduate student who has helped organized Mt. Graham protests for years and has ties to the Apache people.

Thompson said the Apaches have been pushed to the margins of society for years.

"When white men came to this land, Indians accepted them, but still they were all wiped out," he said. "They (the Apaches) were 'savage.' They weren't human."

Despite laws requiring them to contact people who would be affected by land development, Thompson said UA officials never once reached out to the Apache people to discuss the project.

Sarah Spivack can be reached via e-mail at Sarah.Spivack@wildcat.arizona.edu.