Saturday, August 19, 2006


Why are we not hearing about what is happening on Tohono O'odham tribla lands along the US and Mexican border? Why are military invasions of homes not in the news? Why is no media outlet telling us about the repercusions faced by O'odham who speak up against abuses by the border partrol and the US military being done to them?

The following is from Indian Country Today.

O'odham protest military home invasions
by: Brenda Norrell / Indian Country Today

GU-VO DISTRICT, Tohono O'odham Nation, Ariz. - As the National Guard sets up observation posts on Tohono O'odham tribal land on the border, O'odham say homes are being invaded by U.S. Border Patrol agents and their peace of life has been destroyed.

''There is an invasion of our communities. You would not think this is America: it is a whole different world,'' said Ofelia Rivas, founder of the O'odham Voice against the Wall, an O'odham human rights advocacy organization.

Rivas said O'odham living on the border live in fear of the ongoing home invasions and the resulting retaliation if they speak out against the Border Patrol or National Guard troops now preparing camps in their backyards.

''The armed guards invaded the small village of Ali Jegk on the Tohono O'odham reservation. The community is under siege day and night by unmonitored heavily armed border patrols and other agents,'' Rivas told Indian Country Today.

Ali Jegk, adjacent to the international border on tribal land, is 136 miles southwest of Tucson and borders the Organ Pipe National Monument.

Rivas described a recent incident in which a young O'odham man and his family were threatened with pepper spray if they did not get out of their vehicle. The family, including an infant, was traveling to the funeral of their father and uncle.

''They were told to abandon their vehicle and walk more than 25 miles to their community. The young man was taken into custody under bogus charges. An encounter with the tribal police and the Border Patrol forced the release of the young man,'' Rivas said.

Currently, O'odham elderly, who normally sleep outside their adobe homes in summer because of the heat, now have to sleep indoors.

''They are forced to sleep in their homes at night because the Border Patrol is out there walking around and shining their spotlights on them. There is no peace at all,'' Rivas said.

Rivas said that recently, Border Patrol agents climbed on top of their patrol units and watched O'odham elderly gathering saguaro fruits during the traditional cactus fruit harvest.

''They feel like they are under a microscope.''

Gustavo Soto, spokesman for the Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol, told ICT that the agency takes these allegations seriously.

''There are a lot of allegations against our agency doing inappropriate activities,'' Soto said. However, he said the Border Patrol is monitored by the Office of the Inspector General and Office of Personnel Responsibility. There are also internal special investigation teams, he said.

Soto said he was not familiar with specific allegations coming from the Ali Jegk community, but that the Border Patrol encourages O'odham to make formal complaints to the agency. He said each formal complaint is investigated and a Border Patrol community representative is assigned to follow up.

Tohono O'odham Chairman Vivian Juan-Saunders said she was not aware of complaints of Border Patrol agents in the Ali Jegk community. Juan-Saunders said she asked Gu-Vo District leaders if they had received reports of allegations from the community and none had been received.

''Until community members bring these issues to the attention of either the community, district council, Legislative Council Domestic Affairs Committee, the Legislative Council or to my attention, we can't address these issues,'' Juan-Saunders said.

Juan-Saunders said, however, the Tohono O'odham Nation receives complaints from both sides concerning the Border Patrol, including O'odham who question where border agents are when illegal entrants invade O'odham homes.

Juan-Saunders said the nation encourages O'odham to file complaints when their rights are violated. She also said the nation has informed the Border Patrol of the tribe's sovereign status.

''They need to respect the rights of the nation as well,'' Juan-Saunders told ICT.

However, Rivas said O'odham families are harassed and spotlighted in their homes at night.

Rivas said a family of eight was awakened at 4:45 a.m. by armed Border Patrol agents who stated that footprints from the border led to their home. The family consists of a grandmother, two daughters and five grandchildren. The O'odham children were questioned if they were from Mexico.

''The young mother was spotlighted in her bed while she was nursing her infant. This is the third invasion of their home in the past two months. In this home invasion, the invaders did not identify themselves. The family is constantly under watch; the Border Patrol constantly drives by their yard, spotlighting and watch from the roadside.''

Rivas said another young family with two small children was awaked by four heavily armed Border Patrol agents at their door. The family was accused of harboring undocumented Mexicans and possibly hiding drugs. Two agents went through out the house while two other agents guarded the entrance to the home.

In another incident, an O'odham man in his 50s and his brother were stopped while traveling from his community along the border.

''He was threatened; they said they would smash his windshield if he didn't open his window completely. He was accused of being a drug trafficker.

''After they were released, the U.S. Border Patrol agents were yelling the stereotypical 'Indian war yells,''' Rivas said.

Rivas said one Ajo Sector Border Patrol agent stated to an O'odham man, ''You Indians think you have sovereign powers; we are the authority here. We have more authority then the tribal police.''

Soto, given a copy of the allegations in the Ali Jegk community, said it would be necessary for the Border Patrol to have the names and information on each incident in order to investigate. He said it is important for O'odham to write down the license plate numbers of the Border Patrol agents allegedly carrying out inappropriate activities so specific agents could be investigated.

The number to report abuses is (877) USBPHELP, and the help line is available around the clock, he said.

''We immediately take these matters very seriously,'' Soto said, pointing out that spotlighting into homes is one offense that is investigated when reported.

Rivas, however, pointed out that O'odham who do complain and make their names public become targeted and victimized by agents, especially in the isolated area of Ali Jegk.

''There is absolutely nothing out there to protect them, there is no one advocating for them,'' Rivas said.

Responding to ongoing criticisms of the Border Patrol by indigenous at the border, Soto said Border Patrol agents receive cultural sensitivity training during their initial training at the Border Patrol Academy. Then, agents receive annual cultural sensitivity trainings in individual sectors, including the Tucson, Ajo and Casa Grande Border Patrol sectors in southern Arizona.

Rivas and other indigenous border rights activists said the cultural sensitivity training that Border Patrol agents receive is obviously not enough.

Jose Matus, Yaqui and director of the Indigenous Alliance Without Borders, said that when he recently crossed the border in Arizona, a Border Patrol agent told him that he had never heard of the Yaqui people.

Soto said the cultural sensitivity training focuses on ''American Indians'' and is not specific for individual tribes. He said the cultural sensitivity training is multi-faceted and includes Irish-Americans and various ethnic groups.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you for your interest about the border and MY Tribe the Tohono O'odham. I am a member and do live about one half mile from the border. I have to tell you that Indian Country Today is a LIAR. their reporter Norrell is a Fraud. They have never given MY people a say in the tripe that they print. Ophelia Rivas is a fake and a SELL OUT to the mexicans. She does not represent ANY O'odham people. She just has a big mouth.