SELLS, Arizona – Tohono O’odham Nation Chair Ned Norris Jr. testified before the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples of the United States on February 26 about destruction being caused by the building of the U.S.- Mexico border wall.
Federal agencies have failed to hold required consultations with the nation even as the construction has bulldozed or blasted religious and cultural sites of great significance to the Tohono O’odham, he said.
“Dynamiting these sacred sites and burial grounds is the same as bulldozing Arlington National Cemetery or any other cemetery,” Norris said. “Our history as a people is being obliterated and our ancestors’ remains are being desecrated.” The Tohono O’odham rejected the English name, Papago, given to them by the American government several years ago.
He pled for Congress to “act to restrict or remove the Department of Homeland Security’s dangerously broad authority to waive cultural preservation laws and compel them to consult with tribes on these issues. Preserving these sites is important not only to the O’odham, but to the history and culture of the United States,” he said.
Indianz.Com Audio: House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States -
Destroying Sacred Sites and Erasing Tribal Culture: The Trump Administration’s Construction of the Border Wall - February 26, 2020
The Tohono O’odham Nation is a federally recognized tribe with more than 34,000 enrolled tribal citizens. Its traditional lands range from what is now central and southern Arizona into northern Mexico. The nation’s current reservation includes 62 miles of international border, and it has been on the front lines of border policy since 1854.
Border wall construction at culturally important areas such as Quitobaquito Springs and Monument Hill has destroyed sacred sites, burial grounds, and other areas of significance to the nation.
The National Park Service has acknowledged these areas are sacred to the O’odham. Yet the Department of Homeland Security has been allowed to ignore cultural preservation and environmental laws. Federal agencies also have failed to hold any meaningful consultations with the nation about the wall construction and its impacts, as required by law and executive orders, it claims.
This is despite repeated requests by the nation, and unfulfilled promises by Homeland Security that such conversations would occur, it said in a statement.
The next day, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) also condemned the recent activity in southeastern Arizona that led to the desecration of culturally significant sites, which includes blasting of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
“NCAI believes the Administration’s blanket waiver of cultural protection and environmental laws, which statutorily recognize the treaty and trust responsibilities the United States owes to Indian country, is permanently damaging culturally sensitive sacred sites, and serves as a threat to the respect for tribal sovereignty,” the organization said in a written statement.
The statement pinned the blame on U.S. President Donald Trump, whose Administration suspended at least 41 laws to build the wall between the United States and Mexico.
“The President’s actions and policies signal to Indian country a complete failure to sufficiently understand our American Indian and Alaska Native communities, and what it means to honor the trust responsibility owed to Indian country,” said NCAI CEO Kevin J. Allis. “The desecration of these sacred sites on tribal lands along the U.S. Southern Border is shameful and must stop immediately.”
NCAI opposes the construction of the border wall on tribal lands without the consent of the affected tribal nations and calls on the Administration to immediately cease further activity and engage directly with the Tohono O’odham Nation.
Construction of the wall adds insult to injury for the nation’s people. From the early 18th Century to the present, O’odham land has been occupied by foreign governments, it says.
In 1853, through the Gadsden Purchase, or Treaty of La Mesilla, O’odham territory was divided almost in half, between the United States and Mexico.
The treaty bound the United States to honor all land rights of the area held by Mexican citizens, which included the O’odham, who were supposed to have the same constitutional rights as any other United States citizen.