For those who don’t follow the news or for those of you who do and still haven’t heard, the Trump administration is bulldozing through traditional Tohono O’odham burial grounds along the Arizona-Mexico border in preparation for the ridiculous border wall. This destruction is happening alongside the construction of a pipeline going through unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia.
Both of these things, while happening in the 21st century, are not new phenomena. As we know, colonial governments have often stomped on the rights of tribal nations since the first conquistadors landed in this hemisphere. However, the thing that baffles me is that it’s the year 2020 and these things are STILL happening.
Indigenous communities have consistently been pushed aside to make way for pipelines, telescopes, railroads, mines, settlers and cattle, all in the name of “westward expansion” and modernization. Now a tribal community is facing an infringement of its rights in the name of homeland security.
The Tohono O’odham people have been using the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona as a burial site for enemy warriors as well as a ceremonial gathering place since time in memoriam (time extending beyond memory or record). And now, for this ludicrous border wall, that sacred place is being blown up and bulldozed.
Many people don’t understand the complicated relationship that Indigenous tribes have with the federal government, and I’m not going to explain it all right here. (If you are interested in that relationship, I recommend taking the Tribal Sovereignty class on your own time.) I will, however, explain just how Trump was able to bypass environmental and cultural impact statements in order to make this happen.
It’s very simple you see. Thanks to laws passed by Congress, the Department of Homeland Security is able to exempt itself from complying with environmental and other land management regulations in order to protect our nation’s borders.
That leaves people like the Tohono O’odham and environmentalists who want to protect not only cultural sites, but also biologically diverse sites such as the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, at the mercy of the federal government.
Of course, society has always been at the mercy of the government, however, it seems like Indigenous and communities of color are always facing the brunt of the nation’s dirty work.
Pipelines built through Indian lands have burst, contaminating water sources for many homes and families. And while these communities may protest in vast numbers (Standing Rock and Wet’suwet’en), pipelines are still built bullying, yet again, the community into submission. No one bats an eye.
We as a society like to think of ourselves as human beings, but we still turn the other cheek to things that don’t directly affect us or have a personal tie to. It’s time “mainstream society” starts being just as outraged as we are when our traditional sites, communities and livelihoods are put in the line of fire.