Friday, June 03, 2005


Suppressing the Sacred

I was reading in Indian Country Today about the protest of U.S. border policies at the perimeter of the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona, and was reminded of a dispute between Pacific Northwest tribes and US Customs on the Canadian border twenty years ago.

Back then, Lummi and Semiahmoo and other tribes--who'd gathered to fish or pow wow or participate in special ceremonies for around five thousand years--were upset over having their sacred items (masks, drums, carvings, and attire) ransacked by border guards. Listening to their testimony before a Congressional fact-finding panel, I could see and hear the pain and indignity in the elders' voices describing this degrading experience on their way to what was to have been a joyful reunion with their "Canadian" cousins.

Now days, of course, militarism trumps all in the US, and the last thing a Department of Homeland Security/INS/Border Patrol agent is concerned with is maintaining humane, respectful relations with American Indians--especially with those whose territory and relatives span the Mexican border. And so while I was not surprised to read accounts of Tohono O'odham being handcuffed and roughed up by federal agents when visiting between villages within Arizona--let alone across the border--I was nevertheless disturbed by how the constant harrassment, this psychological warfare embedded in the militarization of the border, has affected the Tohono O'odham.

In her own words, a Tohono grandmother said, ''The deaths and the violence on O'odham lands are rooted in dishonor. Confusion and apathy are significant in the destruction and lack of respect for the O'odham way of life and the right to exist as O'odham...O'odham cannot step out of their homes to conduct social and ceremonial activities without armed U.S. Border Patrol agents tailgating their vehicles, interrogating their travel agendas, watching their activates by satellite imaging and entering private homes and properties without permission.''

Recently introduced U.S. immigration legislation would require O'odham to carry U.S. passports to travel within their own territory. But, as the Tohono grandmother noted, ''Many O'odham are born at home and do not have birth records to prove any citizenship. O'odham are born in their territory, which is in both U.S. and Mexico.'' And part of their sacred ceremonies associated with their ancestral lands is to walk the ancient trails that--similar, I imagine, to the Canadian border tribes and nations--manifest the stories and songs of their unique, bedrock heritage in the continent that has only been called America for a mere five to ten percent of the time their people have been here.

In a time when markets and sweatshop goods and labor and armaments travel so freely, what does it say about Americans when we condone the demeaning practice of preventing the celebration of life and the mysteries of the universe?


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?