Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

April 12, 2024

San Carlos Apache Protest Congressman and Dilution of Environmental Laws: Censored by Indian Country Today in 2004

San Carlos Apache Protest Congressman and Dilution of Environmental Laws: Censored by Indian Country Today in 2004

Twenty years ago, San Carlos Apache elders were censored by Indian Country Today, after the newspaper was sold to new owners. Today, their words are as important as ever, on the land and water stolen. 

Representatives of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation had a different take on Renzi and the ESA. They held signs with slogans like "Make Renzi an endangered species," "Clear cut Renzi, not squirrels," and "Renzi insults Apache beliefs."

By Brenda Norrell

(September 20, 2004) SAFFORD, Arizona – San Carlos Apache protested outside a Congressional field hearing and accused Congressman Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., of attempting to water down environmental protection laws aimed at protecting the red squirrel and other species in the fragile environment of sacred Mount Graham.

Ola Cassadore Davis, chair of the Apache Survival Coalition, said Renzi was promoting unprincipled developers like the University of Arizona astronomers, at the expense of Apache religious life and Apache family values.

Davis criticized Renzi’s efforts to remove endangered species protections from the Mount Graham Red Squirrel and to thin and clear-cut the summit forest surrounding the Mount Graham International Observatory. The University of Arizona's $120 million Large Binocular Telescope is nearing completion, despite Apache protests and lawsuits.

“How would Congressman Renzi like to have the hair on the top of his head thinned and parts of his hair chopped out. That’s a pretty sacred place to him, I would guess. But he disrespects places that are sacred to us,” Davis said.

“Renzi should see the fire on top of Mount Graham in July as a warning from God,” she said, referring to the summer wild fires on Mount Graham caused by lightning.

Renzi and U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., are promoting the Mount Graham Sky Island Demonstration Project, which would allow tree thinning on about 2,000 acres on the mountain. The Congressmen said the aim is to protect 21 areas on the mountain from wildfires.

However, the proposal would exempt the project from the required environmental-impact statement, which Renzi and others have said is overly time-consuming.

Federal lawmakers held a formal hearing on the Endangered Species Act Endangered Species Act in Thatcher on Sept. 20. Members of the House Resources Committee said they would accept testimony only from subpoenaed individuals at Eastern Arizona College.

Renzi claimed environmental protection laws prevented forest thinning and contributed to the Nuttall and Gibson fires, charring 29,400 acres last summer.

Davis, however, said the wildfires are being used as a ploy by the Congressmen and greedy developers to washout environmental laws.

“Congressmen like Renzi would sacrifice sacred places in order that developers can destroy the forests, rivers, mountains and special places of this country. The reason our endangered fish and wildlife animals are now endangered is because unscrupulous developers backed by people like Renzi.”

Davis, among the Apaches making statements to protest, said they should look at the Earth to see what is happening.

“Renzi and the astronomers on Mt. Graham look up at the stars, but they don’t look down at their feet to see what they have destroyed on the earth beneath them.”

Raleigh Thompson, retired San Carlos Apache Tribal Council member, said it demonstrates how Congressmen serve the rich and powerful.

“As long as Congressmen like Renzi are around to serve rich and powerful developers by attacking the country’s cultural and environmental protection laws, endangered species problems will continue.

“How would Renzi like us to go to his Church and set up a rodeo or casino beside it or put an Indian crafts shop on top of his Church’s high altar? What he is doing to our mountain and its endangered red squirrel is no different.

“This disregard for people and animals is the way the white man has treated Indians since the 19th century.”

Thompson said Dzil Nchaa Si An (Mt. Graham) has been part of Apache tribal homeland for centuries.

“It was also part of the original reservation land given to us in 1871. But when early settlers and squatters came into our rich lands, they convinced the federal government to take Dzil Nchaa Si An away from us. They wanted it for its water, lumber and other resources.

“They took our fertile Gila River valley from us too, a place where the reports of the early federal Indian Agents said we grew corn and other crops for as far ‘as the eye could see.’ Congressmen just like Renzi have since 1871, on five separate occasions, dismembered about two-thirds of our original Apache reservation’s acreage.

“No wonder we are poor. They stole the best parts of our land. Congressmen like Renzi don’t care if we go extinct any more than they care if the Mount Graham Red Squirrel goes extinct.”

San Carlos Apache elder Erwin Rope said projects such as these get approval because they promise jobs, which never arrive.

“While the $200,000,000 taxpayer financed telescope project creates some temporary jobs, it creates very few permanent jobs,” Rope said.

Rope pointed out that according to the official Forest Service’s Arizona Department of Transportation studies, the most jobs created would be 33 in Tucson and 30 in Safford.

“That is an extremely inefficient and wasteful way for anybody to help local communities,” he said.

Mike Davis, Apache Survival Coalition member and American Indian, said Apaches must speak up to protect the small creatures.

“We Indians respect and honor the intent of our Great Spirit, -- for animals to live on this planet. It is wrong to abandon endangered animals that need our help as desperately as the Mount Graham Red Squirrel.”

Ola Cassadore Davis pointed out that Mount Graham has more vegetation life zones than any other mountain in North America, and that the forest at the summit is the southernmost spruce-fir forest in North America.

“We Apache also know this place is unique. It has been spiritually a part of us for centuries. But people like Renzi don’t care about anything except the money that can be made from those places.

“Look at the severely endangered animal like the Mount Graham Red Squirrel, now down to just a few hundred individuals before the recent fire.”

Apache protesters, which included elderly, said it was inappropriate for police to watch over their protest at the hearing with a police attack dog.

Davis said the Congressmen want to make the living creatures go extinct so the University of Arizona can build a city of telescopes on the mountain.

“If it hadn’t been for the squirrel, the University of Arizona would have by now built a city of telescopes all over the summit of this sacred mountain.”

The League of Conservation Voters recently named Renzi to its "dirty dozen" list of lawmakers which the group considers to have anti-environmental voting records.

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