Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee
Democrats at yesterday’s hearing of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States highlighted the environmental, cultural, and historical damage the Trump administration’s racist border wall has done to Native American communities, questioning the administration’s repeated and seemingly intentional failures to consult with tribal leaders before destroying sacred sites or bulldozing sensitive areas for wall construction. The hearing took place just hours after United States Customs and Border Protection held a “blasting” of Monument Hill – a well-known historical site inside Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Chair Raúl M. Grijalva’s (D-AZ) district where Tohono O’odham tribal members buried Apache warriors out of respect after battle.
The hearing comes just days after widespread outrage over previous damage to Monument Hill, where Grijalva visited in January and spoke with local Tohono O’odham tribal leaders about risks the border wall poses to sacred Native American sites. As the Washington Post reported on February 9, an internal National Park Service (NPS) report found construction of Trump’s wall could destroy up to 22 archaeological sites within Organ Pipe alone.
Organ Pipe is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization biosphere reserve managed by the United States National Park Service that directly abuts the Tohono O’odham Nation. Many sacred site locations important to the O’odham and other tribes, including Monument Hill, are located on public lands.
Grijalva – whose opening statement at yesterday’s hearing is viewable at https://twitter.com/RepRaulGrijalva/status/1232770169212145664 – sent a letter to Chad Wolf, the acting hear of the Department of Homeland Security, before his visit to Organ Pipe stressing his concern that the United States Department of Homeland Security has ignored Native American communities throughout the wall construction process and urging “meaningful government-to-government consultation with the Tohono O’odham Nation” going forward. The United States Department of Homeland Security has not responded to the letter, which is available at http://bit.ly/3a8XSP3.
The United States Department of Homeland Security declined a witness invitation to yesterday’s hearing but told the Committee it is working on a response to Grijalva’s letter – despite construction actions that suggest otherwise. Scott Cameron, the principal deputy assistant secretary for policy, management, and budget, testified on behalf of the Interior Department.
Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), the only Republican to speak at yesterday’s hearing, dismissed the Trump administration’s lack of tribal consultation as unimportant and pushed for continued wall construction without additional safeguards.
Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM), one of the first two Native American woman elected to Congress, delivered an impassioned speech questioning how Trump officials “can sleep at night” and rejecting any comparison between litter, which can be cleaned up, and the permanent destruction of sacred locations and historical artifacts, “which is irreparable.” You can watch her full remarks at https://youtu.be/fhen4O7TYWA.
Representative Jesús “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL) pressed Cameron on whether the administration had actually performed the necessary consultation with the Tohono O’odham before destroying Monument Hill. Cameron said that consultation is “in the eye of the beholder” and declined to be more specific. You can watch Garcia’s full comments, including the exchange with Cameron, at https://youtu.be/7O_9N5i7n58.
Tribal witnesses at the hearing emphasized that the Trump administration has not consulted with them during wall construction. Ned Norris, chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, choked up when he described the permanent destruction wrought by the rapid pace of wall construction without any thought for long-term impacts to Native American communities. You can watch the testimony of the entire witness panel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvvZc_1LN7c (Ned Norris), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgvMe6nUleo (Sarah Krakoff), and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zu9tIYDN4xQ (Shannon Keller O’Loughlin).
Grijalva released a video discussing his intention to visit to the Tohono O’odham Nation on January 18 and another describing his recently completed trip on February 9, which currently has more than 4,000 shares and more than 130,000 views. He also released an interview with Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. on February 16, where Norris pointed out that destruction of Monument Hill and other sacred sites along the border wall route is no different than someone bulldozing Arlington National Cemetery.
The Wall Street Journal reported on February 15 that while the administration has “plans” to reduce the wall’s destructive impacts, “Construction is going forward with few of those plans being guaranteed or finalized.”