Indigenous tribes condemn Trump’s border wall destruction as president protects confederate monuments

One tribe member said destruction was ‘just about as disrespectful as us going into Arlington cemetery and setting off explosions’ 

Gino Spocchia
Wednesday 01 July 2020 17:57
Ancient cacti uprooted for border wall construction

Activists have accused Donald Trump of permitting the destruction of ancient native American burial sites, at the same time as he calls for the protection of national confederate monuments amid anti-racism protests.

The indigenous Kumeyaay people staged a protest on Monday as US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) positioned explosives along the border wall between California and Mexico.

Video shared online showed The Kumeyaay and their allies stood at the border wall near Boulevard, California, where portions are set to be rebuilt as part of president Trump’s border wall project.

One activist, who captured the protest as The Kumeyaay sang traditional songs, wrote in a Twitter post that “The explosives will disturb & desecrate Kumeyaay ancestral bones and artifacts in the area.”

The explosives were placed as pre-construction blasting had been scheduled to take place this week, reported The San Diego Union Tribune.

Senator Kamala Harris condemned the “pointless border wall” construction in a Twitter post on Wednesday night.

“The Kumeyaay shouldn't have to put their lives at risk during a pandemic in order to prevent the desecration of an ancestral burial site,” she wrote. “We should all be outraged this is happening at our border right now.”

Campaigner Pedro Rios called Tuesday’s protest a “moment of victory”.

Mr Rios also warned that “artifacts in the area will be permanently destroyed & desecrated by border wall construction.”

Border patrol told The Tribune that the construction area, some 75 miles from the city of San Diego, had no biological, cultural or historical importance.

“The community members were asked to move away from the project for their safety,” said Jeff Stephenson to the paper, who supervises the CBP San Diego sector. “Out of caution, Monday’s scheduled blasting was postponed and we are working with the construction contractor to reschedule.”

The Kumeyaay dispute those claims, said The Tribune, with one tribe member commenting that “it would be just about as disrespectful as us going into Arlington Cemetery and setting off explosions”.

That comes as national monuments were protected with an executive order signed by the president last week.

Mr Trump instructed the justice department to prioritise sentencing those found to have violated monuments and statues which have come under attack since nationwide protests against racism began in May.

Such monuments include European colonisers and confederate generals, who activists argue honour America’s racist past.

The Kumeyaay protest also comes as activists condemned border wall construction in Arizona, which has seen hundreds of ancient saguaro cacti toppled in an International Biosphere Reserve.

The saguaro, which are native to the Arizona desert, are deemed sacred to the local Tohono O’odham people.

In a statement, US border patrol told The Independent that it “conducted several in-person planning meetings with stakeholders, which included the Tohono O’odham Nation, prior to the start of construction on the Tucson Sector projects.”

The agency also told The Tribune a cultural monitor was present at the construction site in California to ensure previously unidentified culturally sensitive artifacts were not destroyed.

The Independent has contacted CBP for comment on The Kumeyaay protest.

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