|Tohono O’odham and Yaqui: “No More Walls|
- SAN XAVIER AZ|
by Brenda Norrell
Tohono O’odham and Yaqui leaders told a United Nations representative
that a proposed wall along the international border on O’odham
ancestral land would bring further misery to indigenous peoples already
suffering from the militarization of the border.
are planning to seal the border”, said Tohono O’odham Ophelia Rivas,
organizer of the O’odham Voice Against the Wall Project, opposing a
wall planned for construction through O’odham lands on the
“We do not want this wall”, Rivas said at
the Tohono O’odham elders center, as she welcomed Liberato C. Bautista,
representative to the United Nations of the General Board of the Church
and Society of the United Methodist Church.
said he came to support the struggle for self-determination and
preservation of traditional ways. He said indigenous people have not
been recognized by the nation states of the United Nations.
“We are issues, not yet people at the United Nations.”
from Mexico, Lt. Gov. Jose Garcia and Jose Matus, Yaqui ceremonial
leader and border rights activist, said the Patriot Act and Homeland
Security have increased the militarization of the border and made it
more difficult for indigenous to cross the border to conduct ceremonies
and for family reasons.
Matus said, “After 9/11, we had to deal
with Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, the fight against terrorism
and the fight against undocumented immigrants. On top of all this, we
were affected by NAFTA and globalization.
“NAFTA displaced workers and shut down mom and pop operations.”
Mexico, indigenous elders are concerned that young people are losing
interest in their communities because they are forced to go to the
United States to work to survive.
Then, they face the vigilantes, death in the desert and abuses by the Border Patrol.
director of the Indigenous Alliance Without Borders, said the border
separates Kumeyaay, Cocopah, Gila River O’otham, Yavapai-Apache, Tohono
O’odham, Pascua Yaqui and Kickapoo, from California to Texas from their
relatives in Mexico.
Matus said when he attempts to bring
ceremonial leaders from Rio Yaqui, Sonora, into Arizona, they are often
halted because they lack birth certificates and other documents for
visas. Many are self-employed and sell firewood or herd cattle.
Matus attempted to cross the border at Juarez, Mexico, into El Paso,
Texas, with a group of Raramuri (Tarahumara) they were halted by U.S.
immigration officials. “The interviewer made the people sing and dance.
You talk about humiliating, you talk about a lack of respect for our
indigenous people”, Matus said.
O’odham Lt. Gov. Jose Garcia met
with O’odham in four communities in Sonora, Mexico in July. “Their
objection to the fence is it would cut off traditional routes. And they
have not been consulted about building the fence.”
people in Mexico need the government to create jobs so they do not have
to cross the border to survive. “They are looking for sustenance for
their families. The government in Mexico should develop work projects
for the people, so the money that circulates from the businesses
remains in Mexico.”
Garcia said his people are losing their
land because of encroachment by squatters, ranchers, mining companies
and cattle companies. He urged O’odham to develop better communications
with the government of Mexico. Currently, when O’odham go to Mexico for
help, they are told to go to their relatives in Arizona, the Tohono
O’odham Nation. Then, when they ask for help in Arizona, they are told
they are citizens of Mexico and to ask the government of Mexico for
“We are serious in asking for support to regain our lands lost to our people”, Garcia said.
Ramon, former vice chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, said
communications must be improved. “We have never had a part in making
decisions. The people impacted have to have their say. We are right in
the backyard of the United States and we are having these problems. It
Ophelia Rivas said Tohono O’odham elders and community
members organized the “O’odham Voice Against the Wall”. They raised
their own funds to travel to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
at the United Nations in New York in May.
“We want the
international community to understand and hear us. We are still here
and struggling to survive in our communities. We brought this
international ear to hear what we have to say.”
Mexico-Arizona Border Fencing Project stretches 330 miles across the
entire Arizona-Mexico border. If completed, the wall would include 74
miles of O’odham lands, which would be viewed by 145 remote
The first wall of railroad steel rails and
steel sheets will have 400 high-security floodlights, lit 24 hours a
day. A secondary wall will be of high-grade fencing material with
razor-edged coils on top. In between the walls, U.S. military will
build a paved road occupied by Homeland Security armed forces.
The U.S. Border Patrol points out that in Arizona, it will be bigger than the Berlin Wall.
said human rights abuses of indigenous along the border are at a crisis
level. On June 5, an O’odham grandmother, mother and her son were
threatened at gunpoint by two Border Patrol agents a mile north of the
international border. They were traveling on a traditional route.
“They were told if they returned via the same route, ground and air forces would be called to detain and deport them.”
said O’odham have the inherent right to travel freely and safely
through their traditional routes in O’odham territory. These rights are
protected by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and recognized
by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the
Declaration of Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples.
Brenda Norrell is a staff writer for Indian Country Today
and a Contributing Editor for the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report.
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