November 28, 2010

Kitt Peak Observatory on Tohono O'odham land

Tribe paved way for stellar research

A journey back in time to discover the roots of Kitt Peak observatory

By Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan
March 15, 1960, was a cool, clear day in southern Arizona. That morning, about 50 people drove up the winding road to the top of Kitt Peak, 56 miles southwest of Tucson. These scientists, politicians, military officers and members of the Tohono O’odham Nation had gathered to dedicate the country’s first national observatory.

They listened to William W. Morgan, a professor of astronomy at the University of Chicago, deliver the official address. After the ceremony, the visitors ate lunch and toured the mountain.

The dedication of the Kitt Peak National Observatory tied two cultures together—one with ancient roots in the Southwest, the other with modern eyes on the universe. Helmut Abt, an astronomer at Kitt Peak, played a key role in establishing a modern observatory on the Tohono O’odham’s (then called the Papago) ancestral homeland.

“Kitt Peak observatory is very successful on the mountain, and they (Tohono O’odham) have gotten something in return,” Abt said.
Comment:  For a more troubling observatory story, see Myopic Mt. Graham Observatory and University of Arizona vs. Apaches.

1 comment:

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:

Kitt Peak National Observatory and Native Americans Go Way Back

In March 1956 the astronomers received permission from the Tohono O’odham Nation to ride up Kitt Peak on horseback. Two O’odham guides—Al Martines and Raymond Lopez—accompanied them. At the top, the O’odham guides explained the importance of the mountain, their creator I’itoi and cultural perspectives on the land.

After their ride up Kitt Peak, the astronomers spent time with the tribal council elders who governed the Tohono O’odham Nation. They also consulted the Schuk Toak District Council because Kitt Peak is within the boundaries of that district. The Tohono O’odham Nation is made up of 11 districts or communities. Each district has a chairperson, vice chairperson and a treasurer.

The astronomers asked if the O’odham would lease land for an observatory, Abt said. The O’odham were receptive because they had recently gained control over their land.