Saturday, January 19, 2008

Indigenous Report to UN: Racism in Homeland Security

The following is a segment of the Consolidated Indigenous Shadow Report, compiled by the International Indian Treaty Council. It is a report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, exposing the US Apartheid that has not been reported by the US to the United Nations. (Censored blog photos by Brenda Norrell and Jay Johnson-Castro)

I. Racism in “Homeland Security”
The Department of Immigration, previously in the Department of Justice, was moved to the Department of Homeland Security. The old department of immigration began a policy of forcing border crossers into the desert, where, it was believed, they would be discouraged in crossing because of the life threatening conditions under which they would be forced to cross.

Under the guise of Homeland Security, and under the rubric of “homeland security”, the United States has increasingly become paranoid and isolationist, and is ahead of schedule in building a barrier, a steel wall along 700 miles of the US Mexican border.[1] This wall and US xenophobia greatly affect Indigenous Peoples whose lands straddle both sides of the border.

A. Death along the Border:

The end result of US policies is many deaths of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are Indigenous. A written testimony in the Spanish language provided the International Indian Treaty Council by Sebastian Quinac, an Indigenous person from Guatemala working with the American Friends Border Project in Tucson, Arizona, cites his finding of dead and dying bodies of Indigenous people from Latin America:

“July 12, 2007
“An indigenous [man] from Oaxaca lost all contact with his family in his village and with his brother who was in Los Angeles CA. According to what he told me, as he was coming with a group of 10 migrants and the coyote [person paid to cross the workers] he still had contacts in his memory. But when he fell to the ground from severe dehydration he lost all his memory. The next day I took him to the Mexican Consulate to contact his family in Oaxaca, Mexico. In the meantime he told me that out of the 10 immigrants that were coming with the coyote, only 6 continued walking after that he fell to the ground. In the group were 2 Guatemalans, 2 from Puebla and the rest were from Oaxaca. The first to fall in the desert was a Guatemalan and then one from Puebla. In the end he told me, that he has 4 children and his wife. He had to leave his family because there is no work where they live.”[2]

B. Desecration and Denial of Access to Sacred Places:

In October of 2006, a Tohono O’odham elder made the following statement to the International Indian Treaty Council:

Statement of José Garcia, October 12, 2006
Lieutenant Governor of the Tohono O’odham Tribe, in Sonora, Mexico

“My name is José Garcia. I am the Lieutenant Governor of the Tohono O’odham in Sonora, Mexico living in what is now the northern part of Mexico. The Ancestral lands of our Tribe are divided by the United States/Mexican Border. Our traditional ancestral lands extend from the San Pedro River in Arizona, to Baja California, as far south as Caborca, Sonora. It includes the cities of Nogales, Arizona, Magdalena, Sonora, all the way to west of Peñasco in Mexico.

“To the north, our Nation has a recognized federal tribal land base, one of the largest in the United States. In Mexico, our lands are recognized as Ejidos and Communities: including Pozo Verde, Quitovac, and Pozo Prieto. In all, there are five communities and their annexes, which are recognized by the government of Mexico. Our land documents in Mexico were either misplaced or lost, so now we have land problems.

Our people live on both sides of the border, and we maintain relations with each other on a regular basis, crossing the border to attend baptisms, weddings, funerals and our traditional ceremonies, maintaining our Spiritual practice in spite of the obvious difficulties the border poses for us.

“We understand that the United States is to build a steel wall on the border and we are concerned as to how it will affect us, that it will further divide our people. It will certainly be an obstacle not only to immigrants but to the Indigenous Peoples of both the United States and Mexico.

“We really need to look at it. It affects our centuries old traditions and customs. We also understand that they are planning a second wall to go behind the first. The Tohono O’odham Nation has Ok’d a vehicular wall, but not this second wall. It will block our customs and traditions and is not any solution to the problem. The problem is one of poverty and the lack of economic opportunity in Mexico. The migration of people, crossing into the United States, will continue as people search of a better way of life.

Just to tell of a few examples of how it will affect our traditions, in July of every year we have an annual Cleansing Ceremony in Quitovac, Sonora, Mexico at a natural spring. Our people from both sides of the border attend.

“One mile north of the international border on tribal land in the United States, O’odham in Mexico and the United States we celebrate our Deer Dance every summer. O’odham from Mexico need to pass the border into the United States for this ceremony. We have places of traditional harvest of the saguaro fruit south of Cubabi, Mexico. The area of the harvest extends over both sides of the border. The harvest of this fruit is very traditional and sacred to the O’odham people. About one hour’s drive south of Sasabe, Sonora, at a place that is closed off, medicine men gather medicinal clay.

“In Mexico, we have a very sacred place called Ho’oki, where there was a woman who was killing our children, and we dance to put her to sleep. When salt was not available, O’odham made a pilgrimage to the coast each year and our elders informed us of the very sacred places along the way. This pilgrimage is not currently being carried out, but the pilgrimage could be revived. We have catacombs located near several of our villages in Sonora, Mexico, and other catacombs located in the United States on tribal land. These sites have been there for many centuries.

“Other ceremonial places exist all along the border, on both sides. Because of the border and the divisions that the border causes our Nation, many of our ways are slowly disappearing. For example, our Nation has for many, many years, performed a religious pilgrimage to Magdalena, Sonora, and many of our Nations’ people from the US travel there. But lately crossing has become very difficult. In San Francisquito, Sonora, Mexico, one of the O’odham was recently fired upon while crossing the international border from Mexico into the US. The shots were fired at him from Mexico.

“In my opinion, the most sacred object is our territory. If we do not have a land base, we risk losing our language, history, culture, customs, traditions and religious ceremonies. The border wall will block the restoration of our lands in Mexico and interfere with continuing our way of life, the Himadag.

“The O’odham and their Creator should be the ones to decide their own destiny.”

C. The confiscation of Indigenous lands:

Since July, Lipan Apache elders of el Calaboz, TX have been the targets of threats/harassments by Border Patrol, Army Corps of Engineers, NSA, & the U.S. related to the proposed building of a fence on their levee. NSA has been demanding elders give up their lands for the levee–telling them that they'll have to travel 3 miles to go through checkpoints, to walk, recreate, to farm & herd goats/cattle on their own Apache lands.

“In mid July 2007, I was informed by telephone that Homeland Security plans to split my property with a wall/fence. The informant (Border Patrol Agent Rick Cavazos) indicated that the government, under a National Security Directive, plans to build a fence on my private property with or without my consent or approval. For the record, land grant title holders currently own properties which extend to north of the levee but also south of the levee of the Rio Grande. Of this, the only ‘choice’ given me is that I can access my land south of the levee via a proposed checkpoint that will be built three miles east of my property (Garza Road). Many elders in our community will be denied basic freedoms to access their private property, due to the burden this ‘access’ will impose on their daily lives. The government denies the economic, social and cultural divides which are entrenched in the agrarian, land-based cultures indigenous to South Texas. Significant sectors of our communities will not be economically or socially positioned to travel three miles and through a security check-point to access their land grant private property holdings. Effectively, this measure would seriously sever an indigenous community from cultural resources, and cause immeasurable injury to community economic, social, ecological proprietorship and future development.”[3]

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recently made clear the government’s intent to use the power of eminent domain, confiscation, to build the fence along the border in Texas.[4]

Representatives of 19 Indigenous Nations of the Americas met in Tucson, Arizona, on November 17, 2007, to examine the situation of the Border and Indigenous Peoples. They issued a report, wherein they expressed their “… collective outrage for the extreme levels of suffering and inhumanity, including many deaths and massive disruption of way of life, that have been presented to this Summit as well as what we have witnessed in our visit to the border areas during the Summit as a result of brutal and racist US policies being enforced on the Tohono O’odham traditional homelands and elsewhere along the US/Mexico border.”

Recalling article 36 of the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples[5], the participants called upon the United States government, inter alia, to cease its inhumane border policies and respect Indigenous rights.
[1] New York Times, Border Fence Work Raises Environmental Concerns, November 21, 2007.
[2] Written testimony of Sebastian Quinac, entitled Viajes a la frontera. Julio 12 de 2007 “Un Indígena de Oaxaca perdió todo el contacto que tenía con su familia en su pueblo y con su hermano que está en Los Angeles CA. Según lo que él me contó, cuando él venia con un grupo de 10 inmigrantes y el coyote, todavía lo tenía los contactos en su memoria. Pero cuando cayó en el suelo de una fuerte hidratación, perdió toda su memoria. El siguiente día lo llevé al consulado mexicano para contactar a su familia en Oaxaca, México. Mientras estábamos esperando su turno con el consulado, el me contó que de los 10 inmigrantes que venían con el coyote, solo 6 siguieron caminando después que él se quedó tirado en la tierra. Entre el grupo, venían 2 guatemaltecos, 2 de puebla y el resto son de Oaxaca. El primero que se quedó tirado en el desierto era un guatemalteco luego uno de Puebla. Al final, él me contó que tiene 4 hijos y su esposa. Tubo que dejar a su familia por que no hay nada de trabajo donde ellos viven.”
[3] Excerpts from a letter to President George W. Bush, Eloisa G. Taméz, RN, PhD, FAAN, September 21, 2007.
[4] Houston Chronicle, “Border fence holdouts hit with eminent domain threat.” December 7, 2007. See, Texas residents resist border wall,
[5] 1. Indigenous peoples, in particular those divided by international borders, have the right to maintain and develop contacts, relations and cooperation, including activities for spiritual, cultural, political, economic and social purposes, with their own members as well as other peoples across borders.2. States, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, shall take effective measures to facilitate the exercise and ensure the implementation of this right.

Censored Blog photos by Brenda Norrell: Sebastian Quinac speaks, with Bill Means seated, about Quinac's search for the bodies of fellow Mayans on Tohono O'odham land, including women walking to a better life with their children. Photo 2: Mohawks were among those in a border tour of the border wall under construction on Tohono O'odham lands during the Indigenous Peoples' Border Summit of the Americas.

Photo 3: Eloisa Garcia Tamez, Lipan Apache, by Jay Johnson-Castro.

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Censored News is published by censored journalist Brenda Norrell. A journalist for 27 years, Brenda lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, writing for Navajo Times, AP, USA Today, Lakota Times and other American Indian publications. After being censored and then terminated by Indian Country Today in 2006, she began the Censored Blog to document the most censored issues. She currently serves as human rights editor for the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report at the Hague and contributor to Sri Lanka Guardian, Narco News and CounterPunch. She was cohost of the 5-month Longest Walk Talk Radio across America, with Earthcycles Producer Govinda Dalton in 2008:
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