Ola Cassadore Davis was a clarion voice for Apaches

10 Jan
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Ola Cassadore Davis, a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, fought against the Mount Graham Observatory, saying building the telescopes hurt the sacred land. By Dr. Robin Silver

By Connie Cone Sexton / Arizona Republic

Day after day, the elder of the San Carlos Apache Tribe saw the eyes of her people fill with tears.

It was spring 1991, and Ola Cassadore Davis was attempting something mentally and physically exhausting, trying to protect Mount Graham from the erection of multimillion-dollar telescopes.

House by house, Davis, the great-granddaughter of an Apache chief, walked the reservation, sharing news that the University of Arizona wanted to build an observatory on the mountain.

She had grown up on the San Carlos Reservation, not far from the southeastern Arizona mountain, the place where as a child she had gone to sing and pray. The place where Apache crown dancers dwelled, where warriors were buried in unmarked graves and medicine men went to learn healing.

Davis believed Mount Graham was sacred, not the place to build an observatory.

Her quest to stop the construction was fueled by a determined mind and heart. But its genesis came from a dream.

She had seen herself atop the mountain, where a beating drum appeared at her feet and an unfamiliar song played. Davis, then 68, asked a medicine woman to explain the dream. She learned the medicine woman had also had a dream connecting Davis with the mountain.

It seemed clear to both that Davis’ connection to the mountain was strong and that she should do what she could to protect it.

Dr. Robin Silver, an emergency-room physician in Flagstaff, was a photographer taking photos of endangered species in Arizona during early 1990s when he met Davis. He quickly became an admirer.

Davis, who died Nov.25 at age 89 in Tucson, was an inspiration, Silver said.

He remembers the first time he saw her, as she spoke before a group urging the protection of the mountain.

“Here was this short, stocky woman who had a presence and to whom the other elders were deferential,” Silver said. The meeting was going on for hours and hours, and Davis never lost her passion.

“The more abusive (the fight got), the stronger she got,” Silver said. “She really grew as a leader.”

Davis became chairwoman of the Apache Survival Coalition, which filed a federal suit in fall 1991 to stop the telescopes, saying the mountain is a critical place of prayer where the wisdom of elders and holy people is passed to succeeding generations.

In May 1992, Davis took her plea to Europe, trying to convince the Vatican’s Arcetri Observatory, one of the telescopes’ backers, not to support the Arizona telescope project.

The first two of the planned telescopes at one point, there was a proposal for 27, later slashed to seven were dedicated in fall 1993, but Davis and others vowed to keep fighting the project.

In 1994, a federal judge halted further construction, based on concerns of environmentalists. Several years later, a congressional amendment exempted the University of Arizona from further environmental studies and allowed the project to move forward.

The third telescope was dedicated in 2004. A university spokesman said the school knows of no plans to build the other four telescopes.

By the mid-2000s, Davis’ health was complicated by high blood pressure and diabetes, and her involvement in the fight against the telescopes slowed, Silver said.

Davis was a champion for Arizona and her people, he said.

“She really never gave up,” Silver said. “She helped light the torch for others to follow.”

Even though three telescopes were built, the work that Davis did was a victory, said Wendsler Nosie Sr., who served as chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe from 2006 to 2010.

“Ola’s struggles and all that she did brought education (of politics) to the forefront for all tribes,” he said. “Mount Graham reawakened us. Her passions woke us up as Apaches. She helped bring back our true oral history and why we push for our religious and indigenous rights.”

 

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One Response to “Ola Cassadore Davis was a clarion voice for Apaches”

  1. Tachelesart Akademie May 10, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH UNCI(GRANDMOTHER) YOU ARE A REAL ROWMODELL FOR US YOUNGER GENERATION`´S *******
    YOUR PEOPLE WILL KEEP YOU IN HONERD MEMORY & IN THEIR PRAYER*S
    MAY YOU REST IN PEACE ****++****
    MITAKUYE OYACIN

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