Stop the destruction of Tohono O’odham lands

Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. urges Congress to take action and stop Trump’s border wall.

 

This February, Ned Norris, Jr., chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, testifies at an oversight hearing on destruction at the U.S.-Mexico border. “For the past 160 years, the Tohono O’odham have been on the front lines of border issues, often bearing the brunt of failed federal border policies,” he said.

Where there should be outrage, the Tohono O’odham Nation has found only silence.

Our sacred sites and burial grounds — which hold the deepest significance to our people — have been run over and blown up with a seemingly proud indifference by federal contractors as they rush to build President Donald Trump’s border wall.

As these cultural sites have been desecrated, federal officials have hidden behind false motivations and political games. But we are not fooled, and we are not without a voice.

While the president’s border wall is appallingly shortsighted — a political stunt that has relied on the illegal use of federally authorized dollars — it is not the first attempt to divide our people and change the narrative of our history. 

The O’odham have lived in Arizona and northern Mexico since time immemorial. We experienced the impact of a border through our lands in 1854 — a border that was drawn without regard for our history, our original territory boundaries or our sovereign rights. More than 2,000 of the nation’s enrolled tribal citizens continue to live in Mexico today.

As a result, for the past 160 years, the Tohono O’odham have been on the front lines of border issues, often bearing the brunt of failed federal border policies. In the 1990s, federal policy designed to move undocumented migrants from ports of entry pushed people onto the nation’s lands, greatly increasing border traffic and causing environmental and cultural harm.

Today, President Trump’s border wall upholds another historic injustice against the O’odham. It threatens to further erase our history, our traditions and our culture.

Quitobaquito Springs and Monument Hill are sites sacred to the Tohono O’odham. Both include burial grounds, and both are located in what is now Organ Pipe National Monument. They sit close to the border and are within our ancestral territory. The National Park Service — the federal government’s own agency — recognizes that there are burial sites located in these areas.  Yet U.S. Customs and Border Protection contractors have dismissed these facts and plowed ahead with bulldozing and blasting large portions of this land.

This has led to the ruin of an O’odham burial site and a location historically used for religious ceremonies and as the final resting place for many of our tribal ancestors. The administration commenced this destruction with no advance consultation, no notice of the destruction after the fact and no effort to mitigate or avoid irreparable damage to the sacred sites. 

The Trump administration’s reckless disregard for our religious and constitutional rights is embodied in the dynamite and bulldozers now rumbling through our original homelands. Many of our tribal citizens feel they have no choice but to protest these destructive activities. They have been met with tear gas and rubber bullets from law enforcement.

The Trump administration’s reckless disregard for our religious and constitutional rights is embodied in the dynamite and bulldozers now rumbling through our original homelands.

All of this — the desecration, the erasure and the assaults — are the costs we pay for this administration’s campaign prop.

We fully recognize the need for border security. The Tohono O’odham Nation’s Reservation includes 62 miles of international border with Mexico. We spend an average of $3 million of our own money each year on border security and enforcement. Funding border security is a federal responsibility, but the federal government has never reimbursed us. Our police department spends more than a third of its time on border-related issues.

But President Trump’s wall will not stop undocumented immigrants, who will climb over it or smugglers who dig beneath it. It will, however, harm our desert environment, destroy our cultural resources and divide our people. 

The O’odham have always been compassionate and welcoming. We have a long history of helping travelers passing through our lands. These values are part of who we are. These values are so engrained in our worldview that it is reflected in our language, which has no word for “wall.”

Instead, I share amicudalig, our word for wisdom. It means knowing right from wrong, good from bad. Let us together focus the discussion of border security on amicudalig. Acting with wisdom. Acting for the good of people and for the good of our land.

I call on Congress to act with wisdom and abolish the dictatorial statutory waiver authority that has single-handedly allowed the Trump Administration to avoid implementation of scores of federal statutes to destroy our sacred and traditional lands. Legislate on behalf of what is right, not what is wrong, and pass comprehensive immigration reform. There are common sense solutions to border issues. None of them involve a wall. 

Ned Norris Jr. is the Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Dr. Norris, who has served in tribal governance for more than 20 years, is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation from the village of Fresnal Canyon in the Baboquivari District. In May 2009, Dr. Norris was conferred an Honorary Doctorate Degree of Humane Letters from the University of Arizona. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]