Tohono O'odham: Border agents getting away with murder
Posted by Brenda Norrell - March 16, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO -- Mike Flores, Tohono O’odham, questioned why President Obama has not taken any action to halt the militarization of the border and human rights abuses by US Border Patrol agents, or the construction of the US border wall that is violating all federal laws, including laws designed to protect the environment and Native American remains.
Flores, a former tribal councilman, said the Tohono O’odham Nation government is embedded with Homeland Security, because of federal funding. Because of this, US Border Agents are abusing O’odham on their own land and even getting away with murder.
“Our aboriginal territory is divided by this international border,” said Flores, a member of the American Indian Movement. Speaking at the Anarchist Book Fair in San Francisco on March 14, Flores said of the 25,000 Tohono O’odham, about one-third live in northern Mexico in the state of Sonora.
Since 9/11, O’odham have felt the impacts, because the people have had to deal with an influx of US military. Now, the O’odham homeland is occupied by the military violating human rights. Even in their own backyards, O'odham are abused by the US military. He said most Americans do not have to deal with the soldiers and agents in their own backyards.
In the most recent death of an O’odham by the US Border Patrol, an O’odham was suspiciously killed by a border agent on the highway in February. The family now has an investigation underway.
In most cases, the Tohono O’odham Nation government takes no action when an O’odham is murdered by the US Border Patrol.
“In our case, the tribal government is embedded with Homeland Security because of Homeland Security funds,” Flores said.
Flores said when the US Border Patrol kills one of the tribal members, it is considered collateral damage by the tribal government. "It is really frustrating when you have to go and bury your nephew because of these things that are going on there.”
Encouraging young people to come to the Tohono O’odham Nation and document the human rights abuses, Flores said the Tohono O’odham Nation government is not allowing people to take photos of the community members being violated or the border wall being constructed and violating sovereign Tohono O’odham land.
Further, in violation of federal law, Homeland Security and the border wall contractor Boeing, dug up the Tohono O’odham ancestors for the border wall.
“We’ve had to go back and rebury some of our ancestors that the contractors and Homeland Security dug up along this border.”
O’odham daily life is constantly violated. Before 9/11, O’odham children living in their homeland, within one half a mile of the international border, went to school on the United States side of the border without constant harassments. However, since 9/11, children need security clearances to go to school.
“What kind of policy is that when you have to check a fourth grader’s backpack when he crosses the international border to go to school?” O’odham children have also had to obtain additional forms of identification to attend school.
“This is our ancestral land; before 9/11 we were able to go back and forth freely.”
O'odham ceremonies are also being violated. O’odham ceremonies in Sonora, Mexico are conducted by medicine people who live on the US side of the border and go to Sonora to conduct the ceremonies. Now, the ceremonial people are being told they have to obtain passports and other forms of identification.
“We feel this is a violation of our religious freedom, but these are some of the policies that are being put upon us. It creates tensions among us as tribal members as well.”
As the largest American Indian Nation on the southern border, with 25,000 people, Flores said O'odham must deal with this oppression more than others.
“We’re the ones that are subdued because of the inability of our tribal leaders to see through what is going on.”
Flores said the general media is not reporting the truth.
“I doubt if any of you heard about the killing of one of our tribal members by a member of Homeland Security," he said of the most recent O'odham death by the US Border Patrol in February.
Meanwhile, many people cross the border to look for work. Many of these are Indigenous Peoples who have songs and ceremonies of their own. They are being forced to flee from their homelands and seek refuge somewhere else. They are being denied the right to live in accordance with their traditions, he said.
In the summertime in O’odham territory in the Sonoran Desert, located south of Phoenix, Flores said temperatures can reach 118 degrees. Mayan Indians from Guatemala, coming from the tropics into the desert, struggle to survive.
Referring to Mike Wilson, Tohono O’odham, and others, Flores said some O’odham are providing water stations in the desert to prevent the deaths of those forced to travel on foot in search of work and survival.
Because of this humanitarian action, these O’odham are now being accused of being terrorists and criminals, he said.
Tohono O’odham tribal police and other agents slash the water jugs or remove them at the water stations.
“That is allowing people to die without compassion.
“As Indigenous Peoples we believe it should not be that way.
“We need everyone’s help."
Flores said these policies are violating the communal way of living; the O’odham’s communal way of life has been disrupted by the border wall going up on their land.
Describing his efforts in Chiapas with the Zapatistas in the 1990s, Flores said he went to Chiapas with an O’odham delegation and provided humanitarian aid in the jungles with the EZLN.
“We supported them in any way we could.
“During that time, we could see the oppression of the people.
“We don’t have it as bad as our brothers and sisters in the south.”
Urging youths to mobilize and bring attention to the human rights violations and oppression, Flores said there was optimism when Obama was running for president. However, Flores said he personally took the approach of: “We’ll see what happens.”
“We heard the campaign talk about stopping construction of this border wall.”
However, Flores said there has been no action by Obama to halt the border wall, human rights abuses and desecration. Right now, there are tons and tons of iron, tons and tons of cement arriving for construction of this border wall.
Flores urged those present to e-mail Obama and press him to address this issue.
“People are dying out there that don’t need to be dying.”
Flores described finding a tiny grave in the desert on O’odham land, marked with the beads of a Mayan child.
“We’ve come across graves out there.” Describing this tiny grave, he said he was sure the parents would have wanted their child buried back in their own community, in their own homeland.
“People are dying needlessly,” he said, urging people to mobilize and effect change.
“If these practices continue on, we will be living under 100 percent military occupation.”
Flores, who lives 12 miles north of the international boundary on O’odham land, said there was once O’odham elders who came across to talk with the youths and share with them how to take care of the community and the people. But now, they are told to get documents to cross.
The militarization of the O'odham homeland is accelerating.
“Right now there’s even a proposal to send in more National Guard troops.”
Flores said the troops and border agents have interfered with and disrupted O’odham ceremonies. Each time, during one of the ceremonies, which includes the ceremonial hunting of a deer, the hunters were detained by the National Guard.
This creates a state which is outside the harmony of natural law, he said.
“To be detained for eight hours disrupts the whole ceremony.” Each time, there has to be a purification to sanctify the ceremony and begin again. This is not in the order of natural law, he said.
Stressing that the O’odham people have survived since time immemorial with their own language and dialect in tact, he said, “We can do these things if we put our minds to it.”
Urging action because of the shortness of time and global crisis, Flores asked those present to contact the Tohono O’odham Nation and Chairman Ned Norris, Jr., and ask the elected leaders what they are doing. He said people should put pressure on the Tohono O’odham Nation government so there will not be more deaths of people coming across the border, or more deaths of the O’odham people.
Flores said it is important to know the truth, as opposed as to what is being shown on CNN.
Flores, coordinator of the Indigenous Peoples Border Summits of the Americas in 2006 and 2007 on Tohono O’odham land at San Xavier, Ariz., said the summits were successful in bringing Indigenous Peoples together from Canada, Mexico and the United States to share problems and support one another. He is now working with members of the Cocopah Nation, who live near the California border, who are also experiencing similar problems.
In closing, Flores offered words of respect to the Ohlone People, the traditional Indian people of what is now called San Francisco.
“Without them, no one would be here.”
Flores was introduced by Mark Anquoe, Kiowa, of the American Indian Movement, who spoke on systems of governance in Native societies.
Listen to this talk by Mike Flores at: