Albion Monitor /News

Native Groups Across U.S. / Mexico Border Form Alliance

by Brenda Norrell

The alliance was created to defend their right to travel in ancestral territory without becoming victims of human rights and civil rights abuses
(AR) Native groups indigenous to the Americas from the United States and Mexico have gathered in the Tohnono O'odham, Arizona, community to form an alliance to fight racism and discrimination along the U.S. and Mexican border.

The Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras (Indigenous Alliance Without Borders) was formed by so-called "indigenous peoples" whose lands are bisected by the international border. The alliance was created to defend their right to travel in ancestral territory without becoming victims of human rights and civil rights abuses.

The discovery of the remains of an apparent 9,000-year-old Caucasian of apparent European descent in Canada has challenged the claim of primacy long enjoyed by the tribes, based on a belief that they were either indigenous to the region or came before any other people across the one-time Bering Strait "land bridge."

Jose Matus, Yaqui ceremonial leader in South Tucson, said Indigenous peoples in Mexico are primarily subsistence farmers with few means and cannot meet the requirements of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to cross the border.

"Indigenous people in Mexico don't have electric and gas bill receipts. They don't have money in the bank," said Matus, director of Coalicion De Derechos Humanos/Arizona Border Rights Project in Tucson.

Yaqui, O'odham, Cocopah and Kickapoo tribal members travel across the border for family visits and traditional religious ceremonies. Their territories span the harsh region from California to Texas.

"We feel we are one family. We have no borders," said Fidelia Suarez, Yaqui from the village of Bacum, Mexico, and representing the Traditional Council of Indigenous Nations in the northwest state of Sonora.

O'odham in Mexico Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia said increased harassment and intimidation at the border comes at a time when O'odham are losing their ancestral lands in Mexico due to what they say is encroachment and land fraud by non-Indians. With the recent privatization of land in Mexico, O'odham risk losing ancestral land, their home since time immemorial.

Since the Tohono O'odham Nation in Sells, Ariz., closed the offices for O'odham in Mexico last September, O'odham tribal members there are without aid and services.

Isabel Garcia, director of Pima County Legal Defender agency in Tucson, said the border has become a war zone for people of color.

"The border zone is everywhere there is brown-skinned people," she said. "We are all suffering human rights and civil rights violations. "Everyone with brown skin is being asked to produce documenation," she said. "There is no justice for people of color."

The abuses range from verbal to being shot in the back by border guards. Armed with a video camera, Martiza J. Broce is on border patrol of her own.

Leading the Migra Patrol in Tucson, she follows the border patrol and police to document their treatment of people detained. "They hate it," said Broce of the response of officials. She is community corodinator with Coalicion De Derechos Humanos/Arizona Border Rights Project.

"They are going into church soup kitchens and schools, which is against the law. These are supposed to be sanctuaries, safe zones." She said in this time of rising anti-immigrant sentiments, the border patrol violates detainees' rights to call an attorney, call family members and remain silent.

The new alliance plans to research the effects of NAFTA on indigenous peoples, study the option of binational registry and the possibility of a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of mobility. Activists from across the Southwest joined indigenous peoples at the meeting Aug. 16 and 17 for the First Indigenous Nations Border Strategy and Consultation. The Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice based in Albuquerque, N.M. was among the environmental groups offering support for the alliance.

Ill with cancer and opposed to uranium mining, Laguna Pueblo, N.M. elder Dorothy Purley said the conflicts at the border are disturbing.

"It is not fair because the land actually belongs to us," she said. Mike Flores, Tohono O'odham, said Indigenous Nations are sovereign nations and have the right to determine their own destiny.

"This is where the Creator placed us in this hemisphere. We were given the knowledge and wisdom of how to live off the Sonoran Desert," he said. "We need to continue our ceremonies for the sake of humankind."

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Albion Monitor September 15, 1997 (

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