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White Man’s Borders and the Sacred Lands, Sites & Tribes They Affect

In the mid-1800s North American governments came to agreements to establish borders between the countries not taking into account the affect it would have on Natives.

With the signing of the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, the U.S. and Mexican governments agreed upon an official border that separated the two countries. With this line in the sand now official, many tribes were now literally split in half.

The same such matter exists regarding the U.S. and Canadian border which was formally agreed upon on June 15, 1846 as part of the Oregon Treaty. As a result, the U.S. and Canadian border was a done deal.

This man made dissection of land which has been a consistently growing topic of political discussion due to immigration, terrorist and smuggling concerns – one topic never gets to the table – What about the land and territories that are sacred to these tribes that now find themselves having to cross either the U.S./Canada or U.S./Mexico border.

In this article we are listing some of these tribal nations and people that suffer from the destruction and segmenting of their sacred sites, burial grounds and abuses suffered from immigration enforcers.

The Sacred Lands of the O'odham in Arizona and Mexico

After the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, the O’odham people who are separated into 4 federally recognized tribes: the Tohono O'odham Nation, the Gila River Indian Community, the Ak-Chin Indian Community and the Salt River (Pima Maricopa) Indian Community and the Hia-C'ed O'odham, (not federally recognized) have suffered greatly due to immigration enforcement that takes place on their own sacred lands.

According to the Tohono O'odham Nation website, there have been countless occasions of the U.S. Border Patrol detaining and deporting tribal members who were simply traveling through their own tribal lands, practicing sacred ceremonies and migratory traditions.

Due to the U.S./Mexico border wall construction in the spring of 2007, bulldozers unearthed and destroyed O’odham ancestral remains and burial grounds. According to Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris who testified at the Subcommittee on Fisheries Wildlife and Oceans and Subcommittee on National Parks in 2008, “Imagine a bulldozer parking in your family graveyard, turning up bones. This is our reality."

Oak Flats and Sacred Lands of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas

Tribal members, along with organizations such as The Human Rights Clinic at The University of Texas School of Law, have consistently announced that the Ndé Peoples (‘Lipan Apache’; Lipan Apache Band of Texas), living in the border area, have had their rights systematically violated by the United States government.

In a release, the clinic reported that the Nde’ Peoples have been restricted to accessing their traditional lands without any prior consent or offering of any future solution.

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The newly constructed U.S./Mexico Border Wall blocks access to sacred sites such as Oak Flats and has stifled the practice of one such ceremony called the Isanaklesh Gotal ceremony, a ritual which celebrates youth to womanhood. It cannot be conducted presently as the ceremony must be held in a place free of hostile, negative or violent conditions.

Other tribes similarly affected include the Pascua-Yaqui tribe whose people are also separated by the U.S/Mexican Border.

U.S. and Canadian Mohawk Nations

In 1842, the Mohawk Community of Akwesasne was split by the U.S./Canadian Border. Whether it is the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in Akwesasne in New York or Six Nations Mohawk in Canada, the travel of the Mohawk people to visit families, attend ceremony at Sacred Longhouses or visit on either side has been marred for decades by the Canadian government refusing to respect the rights of Mohawks to cross freely on their own reservation lands.

Today, the Mohawk Nation consists of eight communities spread across Quebec, Ontario and New York. This makes for a significant amount of travel for tribal members, Faithkeeper Mike Mitchell said in an article by Cultural Survival.

“Our medicine men are being harassed at the border,” Mitchell said. “They are being made to open bags of sacred objects that they were taking to a ceremony across the border. We drew the line [at the border summit], and I told the U.S. officials that we need a policy that respects our cultural traditions in inspections.”

Sacred grounds have often been threatened. Developers wanted to build over a Mohawk burial ground several decades ago that resulted in the infamous Oka Crisis – where Canadian military forces came head-to-head with Mohawk tribal members unwilling to give up the land.

On a positive slant, Brookfield Renewable Power in 2012 gave 100 acres of sacred land that was adjacent to Cohoes Falls to the Mohawk people. The land is on the Mohawk River where the Great Peacemaker was tested by the Mohawk tribes.

West Coast Canadian Tribes, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Chief Mountain

According to Liz Gravelle, an 85-year old Ktunaxa elder, the U.S./Canadian Border split the Ktunaxa, Ksanka and Kootenai nations to include individual families who had to decide whether to live in Canada or the U.S. Gravelle’s mother is buried in Montana and her father in Canada.

Considering the Salish-Pend d'Oreille and the Ktunaxa/Ksanka/Kootenai who revere the sacred site Chief Mountain still must contend with the U.S./Canadian Border. Considering so many families were split, and tribal nations were scattered by a man made line, they struggle today with having to cross borders in order to pay homage to their sacred lands such as Chief Mountain and Divide Mountain.

Other affected tribes include the Bitterroot Salish and Pend Oreille, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana, the Shuswap First Nation in British Columbia, The Blackfoot Confederacy, or Niitsitapi in Alberta, including the Piikani, Siksika, Kainai Blood and the Blackfeet Nation.