Topawa, Texas (TFC)— Trump’s border wall ambitions may kick off another Native American-spearheaded political movement. One, some warn, which may match the only recently concluded Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
At this resistances’ helm is the The Tohono O’odham Nation, possessing ancestral land stretching over 2.7 million acres across Arizona’s southern desert. The tribe, AzCenteral reports, ranks as the second largest controller of American tribal land. Since Trump took office, it’s leadership has been quite vocal in their condemnation of the border wall.
The tribe’s fate is complicated by its impressive range. If Trump’s border wall goes up, tribespeople warn, families who live on opposite sides will be separated. Additionally, its creation legacies a longstanding trend of disregarding native land rights. The wall also would impede the tribe’s religious pilgrimages across the desert along centuries-old paths.
Additionally, numerous environmental concerns loom in the tribe’s collective consciousness. How many ecosystems will be disturbed by the wall? Will there be any effort to evaluate potential risks before construction?
The Tohono O’odam Nation isn’t oblivious to the lofty task before it. Trump erected the notion of a wall as a cornerstone aspect of his anti-immigrant campaign. As his rise became increasingly nationalistic, calls for a southern border wall boomed with deafening passion. This ideological fervor represents a stiff opposition to the Tohono O’odam Nation. Notably, from Trump followers and those seeking to capitalize on migrant fear tactics.
Tribal leadership, however, is optimistic that others will support their cause. Some even hope to rally support from private landowners in the wall’s path. One line of defense, AzCentral reports, may lie in these landowners filing repeated lawsuits to stall construction. Additionally, Tohono O’odam tribes people warn that government push back, or construction on native land, could ignite Dakota Access Pipeline-style demonstrations.
Already, the tribe is organizing spiritual meetings inviting supporters far and wide. Both national, and international media organizations have flooded Tohono O’odam Nation vice chairman Verlon Jose’s phone.
Jose is not only concerned with effects from the wall itself but also increasing Border Patrol and ICE operations. Specifically, the tribe fears its members will be separated, then increasingly stalked or harassed by authorities. “This is a bigger issue”, Jose stated when asked if the wall is solely a native problem, “it’s a human issue.”
Volatile debate, however, exists within the ranks of this brewing movement. Some critics fear tribal leadership, Jose specifically, will surrender to preserve federal funding. Native American communities are among the poorest in the country. Numerous issues from drug abuse, access to adequate education, basic resources, and police shootings, ravage native communities. Debate over combating the wall also differ from UN petitions to more direct methods.
Others highlight divides between tribespeople on the American side and those in Mexico. This issue, to be fair, is partly due to the non-consensual splitting of indigenous territory over time. An ever-optimistic Jose, however, understands that his 36,000 member community will ultimately have differing opinions. Some members, AzCentral reports, are even sympathetic to a wall due to drug trafficking issues.
Additionally, if DAPL-style protests did erupt, then responses from authorities may not come in the same manner. Countless onlookers witnessed militarized shows of force, read reports of surveillance operations, and saw the impunity which authorities appeared to enjoy. Relatively few, however, understand how many of the officers got there.
Even fewer are aware of various after-action reports, and efforts to better prepare for such deployments. If Native-led protests organized along the southern border, authorities may just implement the various recommendations made after DAPL.
Jose states the tribe has attempted to reach out to White House and Homeland Security officials to seek a diplomatic solution. At one point, a Trump delegation–invited to tribal land to see why a wall is ineffective–canceled at the last minute. Obviously this, alongside Trump’s scrapping of EPA’s Native American-focused programs, isn’t the best omen.