Cronkite Newstitle of the hearing, to investigate “destroying sacred sites and erasing tribal culture” to build the wall. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, called the government’s actions “reckless” and “harmful,” and said the demolition has been done “without any kind of meaningful tribal consultation … without advanced notice.” “This administration apparently has no shame for the damages it has caused to tribal burial grounds,” Gallego said at the hearing. “This is the Tohono O’odham Nation equivalent to bulldozing through parts of Arlington National Cemetery.” But Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, said that a wall would stop illegal border crossings that he said pose an “overwhelming destructive activity” to areas around the border. “Trash, feces, water pollution … illegal vehicle transit,” Gosar said. “All this damage, all this destruction as a result of illegal trafficking has left deep scars” on the environment. “I get it, you don’t want the wall. You don’t want to work with the Trump administration,” he said. “But you offer no alternatives.” That theme was echoed by Scott Cameron, principal deputy assistant Interior secretary for policy, management and budget, who testified that the situation at the border “threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency.” “Along this border, cultural resources, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, plants and animals are adversely impacted by land degradation and destruction from trails, trash, fires and other activities related to unlawful border crossings,” he said in his prepared testimony.
But critics said that comes at a cost of disruption of sacred burial and ceremonial sites. And that destruction often comes “without any consultation, without any respect and without following the constitutional mandate that you need to talk nation to nation” to affected tribes, said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson. His district includes much of the southern border as well as the Tohono O’odham Nation. which is in Mexico and the U.S., divided by 62 miles of border. Tribe members “share the same language, culture, religion and history,” Norris said, often crossing the border for religious and cultural ceremonies, as well as regular visits. Norris said his tribe is sensitive to border issues, having spent “an annual average of $3 million of our own tribal funds on border security and enforcement to help meet the United States’ border security responsibilities. The Nation’s police force typically spends more than a third of its time on border issues.” But the nation strongly opposes border wall construction, he said, not only because it’s costly, but also because it is “highly destructive to the religious, cultural and environmental resources on which our members rely and which make our ancestral lands sacred to our people.” Norris said the tribe is rarely given advance notice of work on potentially sensitive sites, citing one time when he was notified by email the same day that blasting was set to occur on land that is the final resting place for many of his tribe’s ancestors. “We have an obligation, we have a responsibility, we have a vested interest in protecting and securing the safety of our ancestors, and the remains of our ancestors and protecting these sacred sites regardless of whether or not they are on our current ancestral lands,” Norris said.˜ Last year, archaeologists found bone fragments during an archaeological survey near Quitobaquito Springs, two of which were later determined to be human. Cameron said the Park Service is working to “repatriate the bone fragments to the Tohono O’odham Nation.” Those answers, and the insistence by Gosar and Cameron that a wall would help protect sites in the area, did little to placate Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M. As one of two Native American women in Congress, she said it is her duty to stand up against “shameful” and “immoral” actions against indigenous people. Trash can be cleaned up, Haaland said, but “a sacred site that’s been blasted cannot be whole again.” “I don’t know how any of you sleep at night,” she said. For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.
House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States NoticeDestroying Sacred Sites and Erasing Tribal Culture: The Trump Administration’s Construction of the Border Wall (February 26, 2020)
Note: This story originally appeared on Cronkite News and is published via a Creative Commons license. Cronkite News is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
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