Tear Down the Wall

Border tribes deserve more than rhetoric

A newly built stretch of Trump’s wall towers above a wildlife refuge in Arizona. Photo credit: Patrick Donnelly, Center for Biological Diversity.

For the last four years, Indigenous tribes along the U.S.-Mexico border have been in a tireless fight to protect our homelands and our people from the unlawful construction of the border wall.

We watched in horror as construction crews dynamited our ancestors’ gravesites, chopped ceremonial plants to bits, and cleaved our sacred lands in two with a deadly mass of metal.

Now that Donald Trump is no longer president and President Biden has halted wall construction, we must consider how to right these wrongs, heal the land, and compensate communities and tribal nations like my own for all that’s been destroyed.

The Tohono O’odham Nation is one of a handful of Native American tribes in the United States bisected by the international border. We’ve suffered the consequences from this border since the Gadsden Purchase in 1854 split the heart of our homelands in two.

Each year the federal government builds more surveillance towers on our land. More checkpoints militarize our neighborhoods and more Border Patrol agents flood into our communities to harass, demonize and assault tribal members with impunity.

We’ve suffered at the hands of prior administrations, both Democrats and Republicans. But when Trump took office we knew our communities and ancestral lands would be threatened like never before.

A mule deer dead in the shadow of the wall. Photo credit unknown

Trump’s wall has devastated communities and wildlife all along the border. From massive protests in cities and towns across the borderlands to Indigenous tribes using nonviolent direct action and prayer, we gave our all to stop Trump’s wall.

Many people saw our struggle as heroic, a source of hope and fierce resistance against Trump’s ruthless xenophobia. But those of us on the front lines of this fight made enormous, sometimes tragic sacrifices.

Our tribal members have suffered deep psychological trauma at the hands of Border Patrol agents, National Park Service police and Arizona Department of Public Safety officers. They attacked, tear-gassed and shot us with rubber bullets while we stood in prayer protecting our sacred sites from ruin.

Dozens of us were arrested for defending these holy lands, which had been abandoned by the people and laws that were supposed to safeguard them.

We mourned the destruction of burial grounds and sacred springs at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We watched in horror as the National Park Service failed to protect our cultural heritage and sacred sites, then aided in the violent oppression of our people.

Now Indigenous land defenders face multiple state and federal charges and the possibility of steep fines and even jail time. This has forced us to raise money for legal fees while the pandemic rips through our tribal communities, where people suffer disproportionately from the virus.

None of this is justice and it’s long past time to make things right. We need accountability from the new administration.

There’s no way to quantify or truly comprehend the gravity of the millions of Native lives lost, hundreds of tribes slaughtered, or countless cultures and traditions erased. This is the bloody foundation this country was built upon. No amount of money could repay us for these past acts of genocide or the continued trauma inflicted on Indigenous tribes in America.

Hundreds of ancient saguaro cactuses (ha:sañ) have been slaughtered for the border wall on Hia-Ced O’odham homelands at Organ Pipe. Photo: Laiken Jordahl, Center for Biological Diversity.

It’s impossible to put a price tag on the loss of sacred sites, burial grounds and cultural heritage that Trump destroyed with his border wall.

But we can demand that the federal government finally respect the treaties it signed and stop militarizing our land and communities.

We can demand that Biden tear down the wall across our ancestral homelands. The land must be restored, revegetated and healed. O’odham and other tribes must be a central part of all decisions involving our ancestral lands in places like Organ Pipe.

If the Biden administration is serious about respecting tribal sovereignty and Indigenous people, we need more than symbolic statements and executive orders.

It must begin by restoring the land and tearing down the wall that has ripped our homelands apart.

Hon’mana Seukteoma is a community organizer and creative media intern with the Center for Biological Diversity. She lives in Tucson, Ariz.



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