It will negatively affect the tribe’s traditions, culture, natural resources and will add to the nation’s existing problems with the Border Patrol, Chairman of Tohono O’odham Nation Edward Manuel told Sputnik.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly pledged to build a wall on US-Mexico border in order to stop illegal migration as well as human and drugs trafficking. On July 31, Trump said construction of large portions of the wall had started.
Tohono O’odham is a nation of 34,000 people located in southern Arizona along the border with Mexico of which the nation owns 62 miles. The nation’s major source of income is the gaming industry while in the past it was mostly engaged in mining.
Manuel explained that the Tohono O’odham has already had numerous problems with the US Border Patrol and a border wall would exacerbate the situation given that members of the nation go back and forth through their lands.
"It’s going to interfere with our traditions and our culture, it’s going to interfere with our natural resources," Manuel said.
In addition, Manuel said a border wall will cause problems for the nation to use water supplies given that it comes through their lands during summer, circles around and goes back to Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico
"What’s going to happen is they are going to close off the border so no water’s coming through. That’s going to affect our animals, our plants and our ground water," Manuel said.
"We need to do a lot of things that need to be done economically with our neighbors in Mexico. … We need to build bridges not burn bridges," Manuel said.
Tohono O’odham has struggled ever since the US government first put an international border in 1853 that cut through the middle of the nation’s land base.
"Most of our members are living in Arizona, some are living in Mexico. [The border] cut our traditional lands in half, so now we are cut between two borders," the chairman explained. "We face issues traveling back and forth."
Manuel noted that initially Tohono O’odham was told the border was not going to interfere with the nation’s traditions, culture, visitation or ceremonies in Mexico.
"But it’s becoming an issue now with the Border Patrol because of the increase… in border security," Manuel said. "Many of our members are getting questioned when they try to come through."
Manuel pointed out that the nation is attempting to raise the issue with the US government and has met with local Border Patrol agents to explain to them that in trying to protect the border, they also interfere in Tohono O’odham way of life.
Manuel pointed out that smugglers attempting to bring in drugs into the United States are also a problem for the Tohono O’odham nation.
"They also recruit our members to transport the drugs into the cities and towns because they pay them a lot of money, and we have a very high unemployment on our nation," Manuel said.
On a more positive note, the nation’s youth are very interested in their tribal traditions and culture and gets involved with elders to learn tribal songs and the ceremonies, Manuel explained.
"One of the first things we put with our administration is we put in a Cultural museum and cultural center to preserve the culture and traditions," Manuel said.
Manuel noted that the Trump administration has so far not responded to the Tohono O’odham nation, adding that the administration is saying they are going to start building portions of the wall in California, Texas and then in Arizona.
That has not happened yet, but Tohono O’odham’s position remains to oppose the wall, Manuel concluded.