Thursday, November 19, 2009

O'odham: Surviving Apartheid on the Illegal Border

This article refers to the O'odham people, who are fighting a wall being built on their traditional land which straddles the Arizona/Mexico border.

Here is part of the article ( explaining their struggles on the U.S. Mexico border:
"We do follow a traditional order," he said of the O'odham leadership in Mexico. He said that neither the Tohono O'odham Nation nor the Mexico government can dictate to the O'odham in Mexico. The O'odham traditional form of government is not written down, but it is known to the O'odham.

Julian said O'odham in Mexico have fought a toxic waste dump planned for their ceremonial community of Quitovac in Sonora, Mexico. O'odham in Mexico first learned about the toxic dump from people in Mexico. Although the Tohono O'odham Nation government knew about it earlier, the nation was not concerned with it, he said.

Activist groups across the Southwest helped traditional O'odham in Sonora fight this toxic dump, he said.

Julian said when 9/11 occurred Homeland Security brought in expensive vehicles to run over everything in the O'odham homeland, desecrating the land and sacred area. "They build roads wherever they want to."

"Because of 9/11, everyone with brown skin is labeled a terrorist."

Julian said the Tohono O'odham Nation government speaks of sovereignty, but it is not demonstrating sovereignty.

"It is always strings being pulled from somewhere else."

"We survived 500 plus years of that. With this resistance, we're going to last another 500 plus years," he said.

Welcoming guest speaker Ward Churchill, Ofelia Rivas said Churchill has proven to be sympathetic and compassionate about what is happening on the border to Native lands.

During questions, Churchill said it should be the O'odham people who determine an action plan for the border. Churchill said video cameras could be used to curb the level of violence by vigilantes at the border. He said people can follow the Minutemen and other civilian border patrols around with video cameras, as the Black Panthers once did in Oakland. After the Panthers followed Oakland police around with video cameras, police brutality dropped more than 50 percent in six months.

Churchill encouraged Tucson area residents to establish "neighborly" relationships with O'odham to work toward change. He said there is no script for instant social change.

"The process is called ‘a struggle' for a reason."

During his talk, Churchill spoke of Leonard Peltier and Indigenous land rights. He described apartheid formulated in South Africa, which was strict segregation and flagrantly racist. He said people were outraged in the United States about apartheid, but it was adapted from Jim Crow. Jim Crow in the Deep South was an antecedent to apartheid in South Africa.

For Native people, colonizers brought mainstreaming.

"Mainstreaming means assimilation."

Churchill spoke of different forms of colonialism in South Africa, US, Poland and Germany. He spoke of how colonialism affected Native people, pointing out the short life expectancy for Native men as living conditions deteriorated and colonization increased.

Churchill described settler state colonizers and the struggle for decolonization which began in the 1940s.

Speaking of boundaries and walls, Churchill described the wall in Palestine and on O'odham land. Today in the US, O'odham have to go through "checkpoints," just like Palestinians. Churchill compared the lethal actions of Israel toward Palestinians to the US Border Patrol's lethal actions toward O'odham.

He said the dehumanizing of Palestinians is manifest in a similar fashion in the US. This dehumanizing of Indians is apparent in movies like the Oscar winning western "Unforgiven."

Further, he spoke of racial profiling in the US, the popularity of Rush Limbaugh and vigilantes at borders.

Angie Ramon spoke of her son, Bennett Patricio, Jr., who was run over and killed by the US Border Patrol. Bennett was walking home through the desert at 3 a.m. when he was run over. Ramon believes, based on the evidence, that her son was intentionally run over and killed after he walked upon Border Patrol agents involved in a drug transfer. Ramon described her struggle for justice and asked why the US Border Patrol left her son crushed on the highway for so long without transporting him to a hospital.

"I know he must have still been alive," she said, describing how his fingers were still twitching as he lay dying on the highway.

She said both the US Border Patrol and the Tohono O'odham police know what really happened.

Ramon said the Tohono O'odham Nation government has not helped her financially with the case, which she took alone to the Ninth Circuit. She said the tribal government receives funds from the US Border Patrol.

During the event, the crowd enjoyed traditional O'odham tepary beans, baked squash and fry bread, cooked by Ramon and her family.

The event was a fundraiser for the O'odham Solidarity Project.

--Watch videos of this gathering, with additional O'odham interviews by Earthcycles and Censored News:

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