Another Standing Rock Waits in the Wings.

Tohono O’odham Elder, second to last on the right in gray shirt. Credit: C. Ford.

Tohono O’odham Elder, second to last on the left in gray shirt. Credit: C. Ford.

Some of you might remember this from one of the many camp posts:

The Tonoho O’odham elder spoke again, about the loss of much of their way of life when they lost the Gila River. He spoke of Roosevelt’s “offer” to move them to Oklahoma (translation: you walk there), and how the people refused, wanting to stay on their own land, and how so many of them died. He spoke of Sihasin, saguaro, who are guardians. He spoke about the insanity of imposed borders where he lives, and the rabid people trying to keep people out. He spoke of a time when there were no artificial borders, and of how often he crosses this border himself, to get water or medicine. He said he is always stopped, but he speaks to people in his language, which they do not understand, and they always let him go. Other people had also spoken of the imposed borders, in the attempt to keep primarily Mexicans out, and pleaded with all tribes to offer people sanctuary, as these borders are not ours.

The Tonoho O’odham elder who was the head of their runners, those of their nation who ran all the way from Arizona to the Oceti Sakowin camp in nDakota, often spoke about the imposed borders his people had to put up with. Their peoples’ land extends past the artificial borders, and they feel free to ignore such impositions, especially when they need to get certain plants, or visit sacred sites. As far as they are concerned, wašichu borders are stupid and meaningless. Now there’s Trump, who plans to build a big old fucking wall, to keep everyone in. Oh, I mean out. The Tonoho O’odham have a different idea.

President-elect Donald Trump says that he will build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It will stop undocumented immigrants from entering the country. It will stop drugs from entering the country. It will be 50 feet tall. It will be nearly a thousand miles long. And it will cut the traditional lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona in half.

The Tohono O’odham reservation is one of the largest in the nation, and occupies area that includes 76 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. However, the tribe’s traditional lands extend deep into Mexico, and tribal members live on both sides of the border: With tribal identification, they cross regularly to visit family, receive medical services, and participate in ceremonial or religious services.

The prospect of slicing their homelands in two? Not welcome.

“Over my dead body will a wall be built,” says Verlon Jose, vice chairperson of the Tohono O’odham Nation. “If he decides to build a wall, he’s going to need to come talk to us, unless he wants to see another Standing Rock.”

In other words, to build the wall, Mr. Trump will have to fight for every single mile of Tohono O’odham land—legally, and possibly even physically.

And they’re not the only tribal nation that would be impacted by the wall.

Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians, points to the Ysleta Del Sur in Texas and tribes in California, such as the Kumeyaay, who have relatives in Mexico. “There’s significant tribal sovereignty at stake here,” Holden says.


This doesn’t mean things are peachy down on the Tohono O’odham reservation, though: Tribal members say they are routinely harassed by Border Patrol; cultural and religious items are frequently confiscated; and detentions and deportations of tribal citizens are not uncommon. In 2014, two tribal members were hospitalized after being shot by a Border Patrol agent. The situation has often been compared to a Berlin Wall-like scenario, but the tribe has fought for and maintained the ability to enjoy its traditional homelands—at least more than if a wall were running through the middle of it.

“Let me come into your home and build a wall directly in the middle of your house and tell me what impacts that would have on you?” says Jose. “This land is our grocery store; this land is our medical facility, where we get our medicinal remedies from; this land is our college and university. Our sacred sites are in Mexico; our ceremonies are in what is now Mexico. The border is an imaginary line to us.”

Full story is at YES! Magazine. Also of interest: Norway’s Largest Bank Divests From Dakota Access, Launches Own Investigation and What the Trump Victory Means for Standing Rock.


  1. says


    There’s some ultimate irony in “white people want tribal land to build a wall against immigrants”

    Yeah, there is. And as Trump is a known Indian hater, this is not going to go well.

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