Sacred Indigenous Burial Sites Destroyed to Make Room for Border Wall

By Shani Saxon Feb 10, 2020

Sacred Native American burial sites inside Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument were blown up to make way for construction of the Trump administration’s border wall, CBS News reported on February 7. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirmed to CBS that “controlled blasting,” took place in the area last week. Leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation, however, say they were never consulted about the destruction of their ancestral land.

"There has been no consultation with the nation," Congressperson Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told CBS. "This administration is basically trampling on the tribe’s history—and to put it poignantly, its ancestry,” added Grijalva, whose district houses the reservation and also shares 400 miles of border with Mexico.

Vox describes the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as a “designated national monument and a UNESCO biosphere reserve on Arizona’s southern border, about 25 miles west of Tuscon.” In addition to being home to the organ pipe cactus, the reserve also “contains burial sites belonging to the Tohono O’odham Nation, as well as sites revered by other indigenous groups.”

The Trump administration has been able to blast through public land to construct the border wall mostly due to “a little known law passed in the wake of the 9/11,” CBS reports. The REAL ID Act of 2005 gives the federal government the right to waive laws it considers a threat to national security. So far it includes dozens of laws, such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Environmental Protection Act

Reports CBS:

The border wall cannot be constructed on the Native American reservation because it is private land. The nation’s burial sites, however, which Grijalva said are "immediately adjacent" to the reservation, are on public land, making them fair game for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Customs and Border Protection. 

Grijalva told CBS that he sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on January 7 expressing his “serious concerns” over the government’s plan to build part of the wall on sacred tribal land. He so far hasn’t received a response from officials. 

According to CBS:

Weeks before construction began, Grijalva—along with Tohono O’odham elders, chairman Ned Norris Jr. and archaeologists—toured the nation’s sacred ceremonial sites, located within Organ Pipe. The group saw rock piles and burial sites with bone fragments dating back thousands of years. One burial site, known as Las Playas, contained artifacts that go back 10,000 years.

"What we saw on Monument Hill was opposing tribes who were respectfully laid to rest—that is the one being blasted with dynamite," Grijalva said.

"The idea that the secretary of DHS could come to your community and say no laws apply here, what kind of rule of law is that?"  Efren Olivares, director of the racial and economic justice program at the Texas Civil Rights Project, asked in the Pacific Standard last year. "People should be outraged to know that Homeland Security can wield that kind of power."