The internationally recognized biosphere reserve is currently being blown apart without consulting the Native American nation whose ancestral land it affects.
President Donald Trump's notorious border wall has no dearth of controversies attached to it. The Trump administration is now adding yet another to the list by blowing up a national monument that's home to rare species and sacred Native American burial sites in Arizona. The state's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument—an internationally recognized biosphere reserve—is currently being blown apart without consulting the Native American nation whose ancestral land it affects. Customs and Border Protection confirmed in a statement to the press that controlled blasting inside the reservation began this week and that it will go on throughout this month.
According to The Washington Post, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is home to incredibly rare plants and animals; so rare that the United Nations gave it the special designation of an internationally recognized biosphere reserve. The national monument includes about 330,000 acres of designated wilderness and ancestral grounds sacred to the Tohono O'odham Nation—one of the Native American groups that have connections to grounds within the reserve. Congressman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, whose district contains the reservation and shares 400 miles of border with Mexico, criticized the Trump administration's insensitive and disrespectful handling of the land's rich history.
The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is an internationally recognized biosphere reserve. It includes about 330,000 acres of designated wilderness and is home to ancestral grounds sacred to the Tohono O’odham Nation, one of at least a dozen Native American groups. pic.twitter.com/PDuV2tg8fb— Jan Hofdijk (@JanHofdijk) February 10, 2020
Speaking to CBS News, Grijalva said, "There has been no consultation with the nation. This administration is basically trampling on the tribe's history — and to put it poignantly, it's ancestry." In a statement to the press, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said that "the construction contractor has begun controlled blasting, in preparation for new border wall system construction within the Roosevelt Reservation at Monument Mountain. The controlled blasting is targeted and will continue intermittently for the rest of the month."
Miles of new border wall construction mean more precious desert habitats at risk, more militarized communities, and more Native American sacred sites slated for destruction.— Raul M. Grijalva (@RepRaulGrijalva) February 5, 2020
Bulldozing these for the sake of a vanity wall is reprehensible. #SOTU https://t.co/qmitVqqCwj
Grijalva, who is the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, visited the location ahead of the construction and in a video posted on social media, described the devastating sights that greeted him. "Where they were blasting the other day on Monument Hill is the resting place for primarily Apache warriors that had been involved in battle with the O’odham. And then the O’odham people, in a respectful way, laid them to rest on Monument Hill," he explained in the video. Although the CBP claimed an "environment monitor" is present on-site to oversee the construction work and "on-going clearing activities," the agency did not provide additional details.
I just got back from the border.— Raul M. Grijalva (@RepRaulGrijalva) February 9, 2020
This week, Trump blew up a sacred Native American hill on public land to build his racist wall.
Watch my new update and join the growing movement to stop the wall. #NoBorderWall pic.twitter.com/YgmS94vAwO
In a letter sent to the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, prior to his visit to the national reserve, Grijalva expressed serious concerns about the construction and its devastating impact on the land and its ecosystem. "Members of the Tohono O’odham Nation recently informed me that the Department of Homeland Security is not respecting tribal lands and sacred sites as they proceed with border wall plans and construction. I strongly urge DHS to conduct meaningful government-to-government consultation with the Tohono O’odham Nation about the DHS’s planned border wall construction," he wrote in the letter dated January 7. However, the Congressman claimed that no such consultation has taken place.
National Monument and sacred site, now with bulldozers and controlled explosions (despite several laws prohibiting this). Why? Trump wall prep is “bulldozing through numerous sacred sites of the Tohono O’odham Nation — including Monument Hill.” https://t.co/EcSEpYLQ8z https://t.co/dJUVkPjnNy— Christine Harkin (@MsHarkin) February 7, 2020
"There's been stonewalling, no response for any request," he said. Laiken Jordahl, who works on border issues at the Center for Biological Diversity, revealed that parts of the mountain have been butchered by the construction crew with no regard to the rare plants it housed or the rich history of the land. "It’s completely different from what it’s been before — there’s a swath of land gone from right in the middle," he said. In a letter to CBP’s Tucson sector chief, Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, said, "[T]he Nation categorically opposes the barrier construction projects, because they directly harm and threaten both the lands currently reserved for the Nation... and its ancestral lands that extend along the international boundary in Arizona."
Apart from the devastating blow to the monument's cultural significance, environmental advocates and members of the U.S. government are concerned about the potential destruction of other sites and wildlife in the area. According to the National Park Service's website, "The Organ Pipe Cactus Biosphere Reserve is a first-generation biosphere reserve created in 1976 for the conservation of the unique resources representing a pristine example of an intact Sonoran Desert ecosystem. The biosphere designation has helped to attract scientists from around the world to Organ Pipe Cactus to conduct a variety of important studies to help us better understand the Sonoran Desert and the impact of humans on this amazing landscape."
"In addition to the sacred sites like Quitobaquito Springs, the entire monument is ancestral lands. The tribe uses it to gather plants, they still actively use it for ceremony, the entire landscape is sacred to the tribe. They’re plowing over ancient saguaro cactuses, 200-year-old cactuses, chopped up like firewood — it’s appalling. They are also sacred to the O’odham; they see them as the embodiment of their ancestors. So to see them turned into mulch — it’s deeply upsetting," said Jordahl. The Trump administration has been able to bypass environmental rules and legally construct the border wall over public land due to a little known law passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Just informed by a source that @DHSgov has started dynamiting Monument Hill in Organ Pipe for wall construction.— Laiken Jordahl (@LaikenJordahl) February 5, 2020
Yeah. Trump is exploding a mountain in a UNESCO biosphere reserve, national monument & wilerness area to build the #BorderWall. pic.twitter.com/PXQeJH2C5m
The REAL ID Act of 2005 enables the federal government to waive other laws that stand in the way of national security. In its bid to construct the border wall at all costs, the Trump administration has wielded the REAL ID Act to bypass dozens of laws, including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Environmental Protection Act. Citing the law in his letter, Grijalva pointed out that, "of the 21 times the waiver has been enacted since 2005, 16 of those instances have occurred in the last two and a half years." The Congressman now plans to hold a hearing this month on the border construction’s impact. "There’s urgency, and time is of the essence in order to try to work with our friends in the O’odham Nation to preserve, conserve and leave the identity intact," he said.