Tohono O’odham Border Ground Zero: War against Indigenous Peoples
Tohono O’odham Border Ground Zero for War against Indigenous Peoples
By Brenda Norrell
Photo On the border, Alex Soto and Klee Benally. Photo by Brenda Norrell.
TOHONO O’ODHAM LAND – On the border, Klee Benally, Dine’, says the terrorism against Indigenous peoples by the US government includes the militarization of Tohono O’odham land in southern Arizona, and the desecration of sacred San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona.
On the Tohono O’odham border, where the US Border Patrol speeds down dirt roads, cutting into the dry and fragile desert earth, and border agents abuse O’odham on their own land, Benally said, “For me this is a deep issue of colonialism, settler colonialism, and state violence, really state terrorism.”
"This is one of the many ground zeroes of the colonial wars against Indigenous Peoples," said Benally of this area, one of the dealiest for Indigenous Peoples and other migrants who walk north in hopes of a better life. It is also a region where the US border, US militarization and border laws, violate religious freedom rights and the ceremonial passage of O'odham on their lands in the US and Mexico.
Benally said, “Recently there was a marked anniversary of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks on the US. But there have been many Sept 11ths for our communities,” said Benally, Navajo, as he joined Amy Juan and Alex Soto, both Tohono O’odham, on the border on Saturday, on the Tohono O'odham/Mexico border, to speak out.
“Right now we as Indigenous Peoples don’t have guaranteed protection for our religious freedom because our sacred sites are under attack.”
“Indigenous communities here don’t have that same freedom of movement that is essential for their cultural continuity. These are the types of attacks that also need to be addressed,” said Benally, referring to the militarization, border restrictions, and the abuse and harassment by US Border Patrol agents.
“This is the type of state terrorism that needs to be confronted and it is hard to do it in the context of these social and environmental justice movements that continue to further ‘invisibilize’ who we are as Indigenous Peoples.”
Benally said that part of the work underway, being carried out indirectly and directly, along with networking, is to intervene and address these issues in both the progressive liberal media and the corporate media, and at the same time, in the social and environmental justice movements.
“We’re here to say, hey, we are still here as Indigenous Peoples. We can’t further be invisibilized -- especially in the context of these attacks of state terrorism against our people and our lands.”
“Right now as we’re here, San Francisco Peaks are being desecrated with the state sanctions by the US Forest Service and the US Department of Agriculture.”
Benally spoke of the destruction of the old growth forests underway and the long protested plan to use sewage water for snowmaking for tourists at Arizona Snowbowl on sacred San Francisco Peaks. The Peaks, sacred to 13 area Indian Nations, is a place where medicine men conduct ceremonies and gather healing plants. Earlier, Benally was among the Navajos and other Native Americans who locked down to equipment in protest in the Protect the Peaks movement.
As the abuse of the land and the people continues, the US offers superficial ‘listening sessions.’
On the border Benally said, “Even though the Department of Interior is holding sacred sites listening sessions to reconsider their sacred sites policies, on the one hand, they are still supporting and sanctioning the desecration of our sacred lands, which is cultural genocide.”
“What is really at stake here is our cultural survival as Indigenous Peoples.”
“Part of the challenge for us as young people is to step up and to take that responsibility to address these issues and to get justice for our people”
Watch this video interview of Klee Benally on the border:
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