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You are here News Human Rights US-Mexico border wreaks havoc on lives of an indigenous desert tribe

US-Mexico border wreaks havoc on lives of an indigenous desert tribe

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US - Mexico borderIn the aftermath of 9/11, O’odham living on the U.S. reservation were forced to deal with the unintended consequences of a militarized border: Border Patrol agents harass and treat them as undocumented migrants on their sovereign land. Their desert landscape and wildlife get clobbered by migrants, traffickers and federal law enforcement.

They return home to find cars stolen, houses ransacked by desperate migrants — migrants who far too often don’t survive the desert elements. It’s also not uncommon for tribal members to be lured by fast cash into working as coyotes or mules for the Mexican cartels, ending up in jail themselves.

But less attention is paid to the grave impact the same border has on O’odham in Mexico, who’ve become second-class citizens within their own tribe.

The Tohono O’odham Nation (pronounced T’OHN-oh AUTH-um) is a sovereign government and federally recognized Indian nation that claims 25,000 members. Their reservation — established in 1917 — is the second largest in the U.S. and spans 2.8 million acres, about the size of Connecticut. The southern boundary includes 75 miles of the U.S.-Mexico international border.

Estimates vary on how many Tohono O’odham live in Mexico, and the tribal government refused to comment on the topic. The Tohono O’odham Community College website states that about 1,800 enrolled Tohono O’odham reside in Mexico. According to the 2000 national census and subsequent report by Mexico’s National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, 363 O’odham were living in Sonora, Mexico. However, that tally included only families where someone in the household spoke the O’odham language (called ñiok), which has been almost entirely replaced by Spanish.


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