Things aren’t ever going to be the same on the borderlands. The United States is at war and border security is in the Nation’s interest, making it a top priority. Which means the Tohono O’odham Nation is under siege. Gone are the days of happy cook outs out in the boonies among the scenic desert beauty. I suppose we could try, but my happiness soon dissipates when a border patrol SUV, ATV, or helicopter shows up. Maybe that isn’t true for all. Some welcome the intrusion. For me, my thoughts are often occupied by various thoughts on how to control my rage. I don’t want to be so angry. I want to be understood. I want people to understand what is happening and what the potential consequences are. I’m not merely just trying to be subversive, I swear.
I’ve been told, by a genealogist of an indigenous nation far from the borderlands, that my mention of these issues is “selfish.” In the context of the argument, I may not have brought the subject up in a persuasive way, because sometimes my anger hinders my ability to do that. But since that comment was made, I’ve been arguing with him in my mind ever since.
It isn’t selfish to to demand inclusion. I mean, we are used exclusion. It makes sense that Tohono O’odham history is left out of the mainstream narrative of American Indian History. Tohono O’odham have always been here, in the desert, and our history is quite a bit different from that or of many other tribes in the North or to the East. Our traditional songs incorporate elements of the desert and the surrounding land. Our celebration music, Waila, or “Chicken Scratch” is unique and often a new experience for those of my Diné friends who venture to Tohono O’odham jewed. Tohono O’odham’s first encounters with colonizers were in the form of Catholic missions. When the Tohono O’odham Nation was designated a reservation, it was already after the treaty era had ended. Our colonization by the United States began with assimilation.
We are still dealing with the consequences of that era. In my opinion, our elected Council and other leadership would be fighting for our rights if that era wasn’t beaten into their consciousness. Our council does not respond to the daily complaints of harassment, destruction of property and environmental resources, halting of basic movement, and degrading check points and stops because of a domestic dependent relationship it has with the federal government – doctrine already formulated by the time the Tohono O’odham Nation became a federally recognized as a tribe. That relationship provides that the federal government has a high degree of control over our affairs. When the policy was crafted, indigenous people were intentionally halted from providing for themselves. Tribes were made dependent on government rations as a way of exercising control. Such a policy continues, and because my tribe doesn't have many lawyers, we aren't very informed of our rights within the colonial system. If we don't exercise our rights we lose them, and we are losing our rights at a record pace.
A lot of our history was kept from us, and wasn’t made clear to settlers either. I’m willing to bet many from my hometown of Ajo, AZ are not even familiar with Hia-Ced O’odham history in the area. I most certainly wasn’t taught anything in school. I wasn’t taught about Pia Machita and didn’t know that we actually do have a history of resistance. I was taught the opposite, that Tohono O’odham were peaceful and passive. I admit that I do have peaceful tendencies, but we aren’t really as passive as they teach us we are supposed to be.
We are used to being left out, and maybe that’s what is hindering a movement from taking off. People have been treated badly for so long, most feel like why bother? Its not like people care. Its not like we are ever considered in anything. Many are so used to being treated badly they have internalized it. There are not many jobs on the rez. Actually, that isn’t true. There are border patrol jobs and there are cartels coming in and offering people “jobs.” A person will make a mistake, (which many will condemn without knowing what its like) get busted, and will believe society when society tells them that they matter less, or that their human worth is less. That cycle repeats. The people who experience the worst abuses have made some of these mistakes. They have no recourse. Society has a way of ostracizing those who are suffering the most. Which sucks, because I believe that a strong community is actually the best way to get rid of the cartels. If we had pride in our land the way we used to, there is no way Tohono O’odham would let the cartels get away with what they do.
Our well being has been left out since the beginning of our inclusion in the United States, if that makes sense. Tohono O’odham existence wasn’t contemplated in the negotiation of the Gadsden Purchase, and settlers drew an imaginary line, cutting right in the middle of Tohono O’odham jewed. Before they started really enforcing “border security,” it was just that, an imaginary line that didn’t really matter much – many would travel back and forth without second thoughts about the existence of it. That stopped in my lifetime.
We can’t cross anymore without being vigorously questioned. The last time I went to Mexico, I was interrogated for hours. Traditional crossings were shut down by homeland security, and what used to take 5 minutes now will take hours travel for many families visiting grandparents and loved ones. We have no right of free movement. Not even on the U.S. side. If one makes the mistake of taking the wrong dirt road on the rez, one can expect that they think its “reasonable” to be surrounded by agents and helicopters. I’m not the first person that has happened to. Sometimes they point their guns at unarmed people, our elders and even our children. That kind of thing happens every day.
I keep hearing that breakthroughs are being made in Indian Country. I hear that Obama cares about indigenous people. I hear that we (as indigenous people) aren’t as marginalized as we used to be – that its getting better. When I hear this, I can’t help but think – Are we the exception… again?! To say that policy is good towards us when it isn’t, to say we are being included when we aren’t…. That says something. It screams, “Not you! You don’t count!”
I understand that Bernie Sanders is the most progressive, and yes, he has paid the most attention to Indian Country. He persuades even me. I like what he says. He is a good speaker with amazing points. And with Donald Trump so polarizing, he seems like a breath of fresh air.
That is why I find support for him terrifying. He has done this while ignoring us. It means more of the same, more recognition of issues that aren’t so politically difficult and ignoring the ones that might make a candidate look bad. I can’t help but think, what good is recognition of Indian Country, when even Indian Country ignores us too? No Indian lawyer contested when DHS waived laws on the reservation in the name of border security. Nobody even hears about that. Instead we hear the president is making “great strides” in Indian Country. While they celebrate, DHS makes partnerships with Israel to supply new drones and 15 new spy towers to monitor activity on our land. Bernie supports this! He supported S 744 and proudly boasts about it in his campaign video. As much as I want to be as excited as everyone else, his support of a bill that virtually destroys us kind of kills it for me.
I’m not telling you not to vote for the guy. I get that the other prospects are scary too. Do what you do. For now, I just want to be understood. I’m not bringing these issues up just to be negative. I bring them up as a genuine concern of marginalization – rooted in the fact that we are marginalized and often even more so when leadership is progressive.