Border Wall Would Cut Across Land Sacred To Native Tribe The Tohono O'odham tribe on the U.S.-Mexico border says a wall would desecrate a mountain where they say their creator lives. Still, they want to help Donald Trump keep illegal border-crossers out.
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Border Wall Would Cut Across Land Sacred To Native Tribe

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Border Wall Would Cut Across Land Sacred To Native Tribe

Border Wall Would Cut Across Land Sacred To Native Tribe

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here's one potential impact of the president's proposed Mexican border wall. It will run through Native lands. And tribal leaders state that will result in the desecration of sacred sites. Laurel Morales from member station KJZZ reports from southern Arizona.

LAUREL MORALES, BYLINE: The Tohono O'odham reservation straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, about an hour south of Tucson. Tohono O'odham means people of the desert. Vice Chairman Verlon Jose drives down a washboard bumpy dirt road. Recent rains make the palo verde trees even greener and the saguaro stand a little taller. Jose points to the cactus and says every living thing has a story. And each story comes with a teaching.

VERLON JOSE: And I always tell people that every stick and stone is sacred. The rocks that you see along the road have meaning. Sometimes you refer to them as the grandfather.

MORALES: Jose drives to the holiest of rocks - Baboquivari Peak. The Tohono O'odham believe their creator lives there.

JOSE: Over my dead body will they build a wall. It's like me going into your home and saying, you know what? I believe in order to protect your house, we need to do some adjusting. And you're going to say, wait a minute, who are you to come into my house and tell me how to protect my home?

MORALES: But Jose says they're not asking the Trump administration to get out. The tribe is asking them to collaborate.

JOSE: We're not your enemy. We're your ally. We want to work with you in protecting America.

MORALES: The Tohono O'odham agreed to a vehicle barrier along the border a decade ago. But it hasn't prevented people from crossing. The tribe is overwhelmed. Jose parks beside a stream at the base of Baboquivari, gets out of his car and lifts his face to the mountain.

JOSE: Our Creator up above, thank you for our visitors. Give them wisdom and knowledge that they may understand our way of life and why it's such an important to protect our sacred sites.

MORALES: The Tohono O'odham feel like outsiders. The tribal members are U.S. citizens who can cross onto the Mexico side of the reservation. But since September 11, and an inpouring of people from the south, the Tohono O'odham are restricted to one entry point on the reservation or U.S. ports of entry hours away. President Trump says his plan to build a wall and hire significantly more federal agents will stop border crossings. Here he is speaking shortly after his inauguration.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As I've said repeatedly to the country, we are going to get the bad ones out, the criminals and the drug deals and gangs and cartel leaders. The day is over where they can stay in our country and wreak havoc.

ROB WILLIAMS: We're really in legal limbo. And I think that's a cause of great anxiety on the part of tribal peoples.

MORALES: Rob Williams is a professor at University of Arizona's Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program. It's still an open legal question how much authority the president has through executive order to build a wall on native land. But Williams knows that Congress would have the power.

WILLIAMS: Congress can basically condemn Indian land as long as it pays fair market value. Any tribe that would seek to resist particularly congressional legislation that would take that land or appropriate that land for a wall, for example, would have very few avenues open to it.

MORALES: The Tohono O'odham tribe has invited President Trump to visit the reservation. They believe only then, when sitting amidst an army of saguaros and the sacred mountain Baboquivari, will the president understand that he needs to work with the tribe to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. For NPR News, I'm Laurel Morales on the Tohono O'odham Nation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW BIRD'S "HOVER I")

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