On Wednesday, the U.S. House is holding a hearing on Trump’s racist border wall and the threat it poses to the cultural and environmental resources in Arizona, including Organ Pipe National Monument and parts of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s tribal lands. Guess what else is going down Wednesday? The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is blowing up even more of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument—and it’s inviting the media to come watch.
At least a couple advocates believe this is no coincidence that the department is inviting the media to watch an explosion on the same day the Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris is in Washington, D.C., to speak to Congress about the destruction in the desert. Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner with the Centre for Biological Diversity, believes this is the Trump administration’s attempt “to silence Norris and erase his testimony,” as he tweeted Tuesday.
“The Trump administration will stop at nothing to destroy our borderlands and silence the O’odham people,” Jordahl told Gizmodo. “Everybody has wanted to film this because it is so devastating, and this is the single moment that they’ve chosen to allow media access. They’re directly trying to take attention away from the hearing in D.C.”
Vana Lewis, a member of the Nation who is actively protesting the wall’s construction, told Gizmodo she shares a similar assessment. Gizmodo reached out to the Department of Homeland Security to ask for comment on these accusations and will update the post if we hear back.
Regardless of why the U.S. government took this action, what matters is that it did. And I’m not only talking about inviting the media. The government is skipping and waiving all types of environmental laws to bring this project to fruition. Public lands are at risk, but so are sacred sites, ancient burial grounds, and tribal archaeological resources.
The Sonoran Desert is a landscape like no place else in this world. For the Tohono O’odham Nation, the dry landscape isn’t merely a sight to be seen. For this tribal nation, the desert is home. It’s where their ancestors lie. It’s family.
That’s why Donald Trump’s border wall is a personal attack to many members of the Tohono O’odham Nation. The president is destroying the desert, ripping up and blowing up any cacti that stand in the wall’s path, all the while ignoring the concerns of the first peoples of that land.
“[The wall] is destroying our culture from the inside out,” Lewis said. “We are the cactus people.”
All this is in line, however, with Trump’s strategy. His administration has even argued the border wall is good for the environment. His approach to border control has involved taking park rangers from U.S. national parks and putting them on the border, instead. That’s not only alienating Latinx and immigrant park-goers who may feel targeted, but it’s putting park rangers in a strange position where they’re policing lands they don’t know.
Trump doesn’t care about tribal rights or public lands, though. Beyond the destruction along the border, he has opened up Bears Ears National Monument to oil and gas interests despite a similar outcry from nearby tribal leaders. He’s trying to do the same thing to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Nothing to see here, though. Another day, another U.S. national treasure ruined by the president.