BBC News article February 2020: Native burial sites blown up for US border wall

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  • 10 February 2020
Cacti that are over 200 years old and have sacred significance have been chopped down
Image captionCacti that are over 200 years old and have sacred significance have been chopped down

Native American burial sites have been blown up by construction crews building the US-Mexico border wall, says a lawmaker and tribal leaders.

Authorities confirmed that “controlled blasting” has begun at Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a Unesco recognised natural reserve.

Raul Grijalva, a Democratic congressman, told the Intercept the destruction is “sacrilegious”.

The government failed to consult the Tohono O’odham Nation, he said.

Environmental groups also warn of the damage being done to the local underground aquifer, as well as to migrating wildlife in the remote desert region about 115 miles (185km) west of Tucson.

Officials say the aim of the project is to construct a 30ft-tall (9m) steel barrier that runs for 43 miles on the national park land.Skip Twitter post by @PeccaryNotPigRuss McSpadden@PeccaryNotPig

This is the top of “Monument Hill,” a sacred site to multiple tribes, that @DHSgov is dynamiting right now to build the #borderwall. It’s part of the historic homeland of the O’odham. Apache are buried here. Trump waived the Native American Graves Protection Act to allow this.

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What is Organ Pipe?

The United Nations designated Organ Pipe as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, calling it “a pristine example of an intact Sonoran Desert ecosystem”.

Mr Grijalva, the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, represents a district that encompasses the area, which shares 400 miles of border with Mexico.

Construction on Monument Hill above saguaro cacti
Image captionConstruction on Monument Hill above saguaro cacti

He toured the burial sites at the Organ Pipe, known as Monument Hill, last month, and was told that O’odham people buried warriors from the rival Apache tribe there.

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

An activist hikes in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

In interviews with US media, he called the Trump administration’s conduct “sacrilegious” and said the environmental monitor that the government assigned to the project would do nothing to mitigate the cultural damage.

One area contained artefacts dating back 10,000 years.

Tribal chairman Ned Norris Jr told the Arizona Republic that even though the land is now controlled by the US government, “we have inhabited this area since time immemorial.”

“They’re our ancestors. They’re our remnants of who we are as a people, throughout this whole area. And it’s our obligation, it’s our duty to do what is necessary to protect that.”Skip Twitter post by @RepRaulGrijalvaRaul M. Grijalva@RepRaulGrijalva

Remember when Trump threatened to blow up Iranian cultural sites?

Looks like he set his sights on something closer to home.

To build his racist wall, he’s blowing up sacred Native American burial grounds without notifying local tribes.

This is wrong. http://ow.ly/A3VU30qgzkj Sacred Native American burial sites are being blown up for Trump’s border wall, lawmaker saysThe border wall site is home to ancestral grounds sacred to the Tohono O’odham Nation.washingtonpost.com2,385Twitter Ads info and privacy2,212 people are talking about thisReport

End of Twitter post by @RepRaulGrijalva

An internal report from the National Park Service obtained by the Washington Post says the border wall Mr Trump promised during his 2015 campaign would destroy up to 22 archeological sites within Organ Pipe alone.

Crews are reported to have also destroyed ancient saguaro cacti, which Mr Grijalva said the O’odham people see “as the embodiment of their ancestors”.

“So to see them turned into mulch – it’s deeply upsetting.”

Is this legal?

The Trump administration has been able to build sections of the US-Mexico border wall on public land due to the 2005 REAL ID Act, which gives the federal government the right to waive laws that conflict with US national security policy.

In their bid to build the wall, the White House has waived dozens of laws – including ones that protected Native American graves, endangered species, and the environment.

Mr Grijalva said he will work towards repealing the 2005 act and will convene a congressional hearing in the coming weeks in an effort to do so.