Permit to Pray?

News Release, August 13, 1998

Have you got your permit to pray?

UA demands Native Americans obtain prayer permits 48 hrs. prior to praying on Mt. Graham

The University of Arizona (UA) has asked the U.S. Forest Service for authority to regulate Native Americans who pray on the Apache sacred mountain, Mt. Graham in southeastern Arizona. This strange proposal was discovered through a Freedom of Information request obtained this summer by the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity. Dzil Nchaa Si An as it is called to the Apache, or Mt. Graham, is a most holy mountain located in eastern Arizona. Here the Apache gather certain herbs, special waters, and undertake prayer, meditation and spiritual guidance.

The University, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists, has attempted to obtain exemptions from all U.S. cultural, religious and environmental protection laws for their Mt. Graham observatory. Special riders were slipped through without public hearings in the final hours of the U.S. Congress in 1988 and 1996.

The following stipulations for allowing Native Americans to pray were outlined in a letter from the UA Steward Observatory's B. E. Powell to the U.S. Forest Service dated Oct. 7, 1997:

1. Native Americans must request in writing to University employee Mr. John Ratje, Observatory Site Manager, at the Mt. Graham Observatory Office in Safford, Arizona at least two business days prior to the date requested for prayer.

2. Description must be made in writing for the exact area on the mountain where prayer will take place.

3. All members of the party must be bona fide Indians officially enrolled in a federally recognized Tribe.

4. All Indians must already have previously obtained permission for prayer from the U.S. Forest Service to enter the summit region above 10,000 feet (which is closed to members of the public except for the astronomers).

5. No Whites or other non-Indians will be granted permission from UA for prayer or meditation.

Ola Cassadore Davis, an Apache elder has recently returned from Italy where she asked the Italian government to terminate funding for this religious desecration. On these regulations she stated: "The Forest Service and the University of Arizona should be ashamed of their continued campaign to restrict the free exercise of traditional Apache religion. They stole our mountain from us and now they want to take away our spiritual way of life. President Clinton should keep his promise to protect our religion and cancel the telescope permit. There are other places for them to put their scopes. We only have one Mt. Graham. "

Wendsler Nosie, an Apache who was arrested by UA police for praying on the mountain last year, said: "On Saturday, August 15, 1998, we will be holding our Sacred Run to Mt. Graham. It is very discouraging to read the U of A's demand that Native Americans be required to request permits to pray. Didn't the Pilgrims come to America to exercise their Freedom of Religion? Correct me if I am wrong! They brought devastation to the Indigenous People here, and now their descendants are continuing to destroy a race that was created by Usen (God). So I ask the People of the World to recognize this Injustice and stand with us."

Robin Silver, Conservation Chair of the Southwest Center, commented: These regulations insult the U.S. constitution's guarantee of "Equal protection under the law." The unique summit forest ecosystem is of great spiritual value to non-Indians as well as Indians. It is significant and meaningful for prayer, meditation and spiritual renewal for all humans, whether Indian or non-Indian. These proposed regulations are an outright flaunting of the U.S. Constitution. That any public university would attempt this is outrageous."

For info: Ola Cassadore Davis, Apache Survival Coalition, Tel. 520 475 2543;
Wendsler Nosie, Apaches for Cultural Preservation 520 475 2494, 475 2545;
Robin Silver, M.D. Southwest Ctr. 602 246 4170;
Bob Witzeman, M.D., Mt. Graham Coalition, 602 840-0052;
Anne Carl, Southwest Forest Alliance 520 903 0536;
Dave Hodges, Sky Island Watch, 520 326-4874.