Tribal Nation Condemns Desecration Of Sacred Site To Build Trump’s Border Wall

by : Emily Brown on : 27 Feb 2020 15:32
Tribal Nation Condemns Desecration Of Sacred Site To Build Trump's Border WallTribal Nation Condemns Desecration Of Sacred Site To Build Trump's Border WallPA/Laiken Jordahl/Center For Biological Diversity

A tribal nation has condemned President Trump’s border wall as construction crews destroy ancient burial sites and sacred Indigenous land.


Tribal leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation, who live on both sides of the Arizona-Mexico border, have claimed the scramble to build the wall poses a range of environmental and archaeological threats to sites inside the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona.

United Nations cultural organisation UNESCO has designated the area as an internationally protected biosphere reserve. However, over the past few weeks crews have been uprooting dozens of protected cacti and siphoning an aquifer that feeds a desert oasis, from which humans have been sourcing water for 16,000 years.

Controlled detonation at Organ Pipe Cactus National MonumentControlled detonation at Organ Pipe Cactus National MonumentPA Images

The O’odham have expressed concerns in the past, but their complaints became more insistent after crews used explosives at an area of the monument that many consider a sacred Indigenous site, known as Memorial Hill.


Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, a Democrat representing southern Arizona, cited tribal leaders in a video shared on Twitter, as he explained the site ‘is the resting place primarily for Apache warriors that had been involved in battle with the O’odham, and then the O’odham people in a respectful way laid them to rest on Monument Hill’.

You can watch Grijalva speech here:

Commenting on the construction of the wall, Verlon M. José, the governor of the Tohono O’odham in northern Mexico and a former vice chairman of the tribal nation, said:

To state it clearly, we are enduring crimes against humanity.

Tell me where your grandparents are buried and let me dynamite their graves. This wall is already putting a scar across our heart.

Members of the O’odham Nation previously expressed grievances over the wall as federal courts allowed the Trump administration to speed up construction by waiving numerous laws, including measures protecting endangered species and Native American burial sites.

Officials reportedly used President Trump’s national emergency declaration in 2019 as justification for the waivers.


John Mennell, a spokesperson for Border Patrol, which is overseeing the construction within the national monument, hit back at the O’odham leaders’ claims, saying ‘no biological, cultural or historical sites were identified within the project area’.

Amber Ortega, an O’odham student who lives near the monument, described the desecration of the site as ‘a very personal attack’.

According to The New York Times, Laiken Jordahl, a former National Park Service employee who surveyed the wildlife of Organ Pipe, said the project will ‘change the evolutionary history of this landscape, impacting species migrations, seed dispersal [and] the flow of water’.

To mix concrete for the wall’s foundations, crews are drawing water from the oasis near where ancient bone fragments, determined to be from the Classic Hohokam Period, were unearthed last year.

Hundreds of protected saguaros cacti have been uprooted from the site, and while the Border Patrol said workers had relocated them within the park, tribal leaders and environmental activists documented multiple examples of uprooted cacti left to decay. O’odham people previously relied on the cacti as a fruit and fermented them into ceremonial wine.

Federal authorities have been accused of ‘gaslighting’ the Nation by suggesting the wall would prevent migrants from trampling over the desert in vehicles and on foot, thus destroying the land, though it seems hard to believe footprints would do more damage than explosions.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: News, Arizona, Donald Trump, immigration, indigenous, Tohono O’odham Nation


The New York Times and 1 other
  1. The New York Times

    Tribal Nation Condemns ‘Desecration’ to Build Border Wall

  2. Raul M Grijalva/Twitter