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Native nation looking to halt border construction

by Kari Ashworth
Wed, Feb 26th 2020 12:00 pm
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument provides enjoyment for Arizonians and tourists free of charge, but it is currently subject to `controlled blasting` due to construction efforts for the border wall.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument provides enjoyment for Arizonians and tourists free of charge, but it is currently subject to "controlled blasting" due to construction efforts for the border wall.

A site in Arizona considered to be sacred to the Native O’odham people is being cleared to make way for the construction of President Donald Trump’s border wall. 

Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was the site of controlled blasting, which began the week of Sunday, Feb. 9. 

“The construction contractor has begun controlled blasting, in preparation for new border wall system construction within the Roosevelt Reservation at Monument Mountain,” a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said in a statement sent to The Washington Post. “The controlled blasting is targeted and will continue intermittently for the rest of the month.”

While the land may be sacred to the Native people in the area, it is federally owned, so the government is not breaking any laws per se. According to The Washington Post, the monument is an “internationally recognized biosphere reserve.” This essentially means the United Nations has given the area special designation due to it having rare plants and animals. The area has roughly 330,000 acres of land and is home to the Tohono O’odham Nation, one of many Native groups who claim connection to the grounds. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection began clearing the site last August, moving some of the plants, including the state’s famous saguaros, to other parts of the National Park, according to USA Today. While the area has been cleared, the government gave no heed to the Native people who live there, and there have been differing viewpoints about the sacredness of the land. 

According to azcentral.com, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in Arizona claim they surveyed the land and identified “no biological, cultural or historical sites in the area.”

This is in conflict with the Tohono O’odham Nation who have identified the mountain as having “historical significant cultural and historical value,” according to azcentral.com.

The Washington Post reported Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), whose district includes the reservation, said the area is a burial ground.  

“Where they were blasting the other day on Monument Hill is the resting place for primarily Apache warriors that had been involved in battle with the O’odham,” Grijalva said in a video posted on Sunday, Feb. 9. “And then the O’odham people in a respectful way laid them to rest on Monument Hill.”

Peter Steere, the nation’s historic preservation officer, also said the site was used for religious ceremonies and reiterated its significance as a burial ground during a visit to the site with Grijalva and nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. in January, according to USA Today.

“This hill, from the information we’ve been able to gather, was used by Hia-C’ed O’odham for religious ceremonies,” Steere said. “This is also a place, when the Apache were raiding out here, if the Apache warrior was killed, his body was placed on this hill.”

Steere also mentioned the O’odham people can trace mentions of the hill back hundreds of years, and they have found “possible references in letters written by Father Eusebio 

Kino, the famed Jesuit missionary that proselytized the area in the late 1600s,” according 

 

to USA Today. 

Documentation of the hill from O’odham elders and archeologists who have worked in the area exist as well, which is in direct confrontation with what U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have said. 

According to Steere, discussions between the nation and the government have not gone well, saying “the nation asked them not to do anymore work on this hill, and they're continuing to do the work on the hill.”

Grijalva plans to hold a hearing this month to discuss the construction of the border wall’s impact, The Washington Post said.

“There’s urgency, and time is of the essence in order to try to work with our friends in the O’odham Nation to preserve, conserve and leave the identity intact,” Grijalva said in a letter to the Department of Homeland Security. 

It is sad that after acquiring this country over 500 years ago and stealing Native people’s land and livelihood, the United States government continues to stonewall them and refuse to acknowledge sacred land — and for a border wall no less. The irony of building a wall to keep people out of the country on stolen land is not lost on me. 

It is important to recognize where and how our country was founded and to respect the ancestors of people we pushed out, to put it lightly. And we simply have to do better as a country. 

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Taken by Vincent Croce:
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