Tohono O’odham Chairman on Border Wall: ‘Not Going to Happen’

The Tohono O’odham Nation Executive Branch is firm on their stance against a border wall being built.

TUCSON, ARIZONA—The Tohono O’odham Nation Executive Branch is firm on their stance against a border wall being built.

“[It’s] not going to happen,” said Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Edward Manual. “It is not feasible to put a wall on the Tohono O’odham Nation…it is going to cost way too much money, way more than they are projecting.”

TON Chairman Manuel went on to say, “It is going to cut off our people, our members that come [from Mexico] and use our services. Not only that we have ceremonies in Mexico that many of our members attend. Members also make pilgrimages to Mexico and a border wall would cut that off as well.”


On January 25, President Donald Trump signed executive actions to begin construction of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico Border. Seventy-five miles of the U.S.-Mexico border runs through the Tohono O’odham Nation (TON).

On January 26, the TON’s Executive Branch sent out a press release stating that they do not support the building of a border wall and invited President Donald Trump to the Tohono O’odham Nation.

“We have been working with other law enforcement agencies any way we can because we are limited on funding and we are using our monies for border enforcements and helping out Customs and Border Patrol,” said Manuel. “We spend our own monies on them and helping migrants that are sick.”

Furthermore, the TON pays $2,500 per autopsy for bodies found on the reservation. Richard Saunders, TON Executive Director of Public Safety, said they found 85 bodies last year, ranging from recently deceased to completely decomposed.

“We spend about $3 million a year and we never get fully reimbursed on those costs,” Manuel said.

On February 8, the Tohono O’odham Legislative Council (TOLC) passed Resolution 17-053 which states, “…while the Nation coordinates closely with CBP and ICE and has supported the construction of vehicle barriers, the Nation opposes the construction of a wall on its southern boundary with Mexico…”

The resolution went on to list what would be affected from a border wall which included: deny tribal members to cultural sites; injure endangered species such as the jaguar and militarize the land on the TON’s southern boundary.

On February 10, the Inter Tribal Association of Arizona passed Resolution 0117, supporting the TON by opposing the construction of a border wall and “the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 Section 102(c) waivers of federal and other laws on tribal lands.”

Manuel and TON Vice Chairman Verlon Jose took a trip to Washington, D.C. from February 11-16 to attend the National Congress of American Indians Executive Council Winter Session and to meet with individuals.

Jose said they met with a lot of people during their time in D.C. which included Department of Homeland Security, the Congressional delegates from Arizona, the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and New Mexico State Senator Tom Udall.

Tohono O’odham Nation on the left of border wall area, with Mexico on the right

Looking west, the U.S.-Mexico Border is visible for miles as well as the access road Border Patrol Agents use to monitor activity. Mexico is on the left side of the fence and the Tohono O'odham reservation is on the right side.

Jose said the TON gave a formal presentation at NCAI and made another formal invitation to President Trump to come to the Tohono O’odham Nation.

“We are a sovereign nation so they have to come talk to us before they make a decision, that is what we told the Congressional people,” Manuel said. “We want to sit at the table if there is going to be any discussion on a wall along the international boundaries because it is going to impact us directly.”

Jose said they received an overwhelming amount of support in D.C. especially from tribal leaders.

So much so, that NCAI passed Resolution ECWS-17-002, supporting the Tohono O’odham Nation and opposing a border wall.

“The NCAI resolution is a clear statement from our Native American brothers and sisters across the country that they will not see their land seized or their rights trampled by this administration. Trump may have bullied his way into the White House by spreading delusions of a border wall, but if he expects to bully the tribes whose land the wall would cut across, he is gravely mistaken. Native Americans will not give legal consent to any entity determining what happens with their sovereign lands, and will in every way possible oppose the Trump Administration’s plans to build a wall on tribal land,” stated a press release from Arizona Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva and New Mexico Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham.

On February 17, the day after they came back from Washington D.C., Manuel and Jose were part of a border wall panel discussion organized by tribal members. The panel was held in the TOLC Chambers in Sells, Arizona. Almost every seat was filled that Friday evening.

The other panelists included Billman Lopez the Domestic Affairs Chairman for the Tohono O’odham Legislative Council, Lucinda Allen TOLC Vice Chairwoman, Adam Andrews a graduate of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona’s James E. Roger College of Law and James Diamond, Director of Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Tribal Justice Clinic at UA.

Each panelist had five minutes to address Border Safety, Narcotics and Smuggling, Environmental Impacts, Cultural Aspects and Solutions, what is the next step. Afterwards audience members had the chance to ask questions.

On February 20, Shining Soul released a music video for their song “All Day.”

“In light of Trump's proposed wall, Shining Soul decided to highlight the faces and voices of those who would be negatively impacted by it; Borderland communities such as the Tohono O'odham Nation, Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora,” according to a press release.

On February 21, the TON Executive Branch released a video called “There is No O’odham Word for Wall.” The six-minute video highlights the TON Executive Branch’s opposition against a border wall while offering background information about the TON.

On February 28, the Native American Student Affairs at the University of Arizona held a discussion about the border wall as part of their Social Injustice Series. There were over 50 people who attended the talk.

“A border wall would not work right now because all the right parties are not at the table,” Jose said. “Take a look at other countries that have built walls, have they worked? There is a lot of other things that come with building a wall, we don’t know if they are looking at that and this border has already cut our home in half.”