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TOHONO O’ODHAM NATION — The Tohono O’Odham Nation is condemning the Trump administration for its use of tear gas by law enforcement near a Border Patrol checkpoint last week where many of the protesters rallying included members of its tribe.

The protesters had gathered to protest the ongoing desecration of sacred and burial sites by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s construction of the border wall on the Nation’s ancestral homelands, and to prevent further desecration.

A Customs and Border Patrol spokesman confirmed to Arizona Public Media that agents used tear gas, and that eleven people were arrested in the protests.

The tear gas attack was caught on video, which clearly shows them being tear gassed and then forcefully removed. One image shows four law enforcement officers kneeling on a single protestor. There are also reports of additional attacks on the nonviolent protesters, including the firing of rubber bullets to disperse them. These actions took place on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and appeared on video.

“The use of tear gas on O’odham and fellow American citizens exercising their sacred constitutional right to protest is utterly appalling, and not something that should be tolerated in our democracy. For years, I and other O’odham leaders have been raising the alarm about the very issues that are at the root of this travesty – the wanton destruction of burial and other sites that are sacred to the Tohono O’odham, and that should be protected by law,” Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. said.

The Tohono O’odham Nation has attempted to halt the Trump administration’s efforts to build the wall on its ancestral sacred sites at the southern border of the United States. The tribal nation has sent letters, held meetings and even testified before Congress to have the federal government respect its position.

Norris says the administration’s reckless disregard for the Tohono O’odham’s religious and constitutional rights have been ignored. Instead, the administration’s desire to construct the wall has been embodied by dynamite and bulldozers through the tribal nation’s original homeland, he said. And now tear gas. 

“We, the Tohono O’odham, have been on the front lines of border security for generations. We are committed to national security and law enforcement. We have implemented vehicle barriers, Integrated Fixed Towers, and many other measures to protect the U.S. We have spent our own funds to do so. As such, when we say a fortified wall is ineffective, easily bypassed, and a complete waste of taxpayer dollars, we know what we are talking about. This irrational, mad dash to build a wall is destroying our environment, desecrating sacred places, and physically separating our people for no real reason beyond serving as a wildly expensive campaign prop for the president. This must end,” Norris said.

“The Trump Administration must take responsibility for this situation,” he added. “I call on the administration to cease the destruction of our sacred sites and engage in meaningful discussions with the Nation on preventing further harm to sacred sites and burial grounds.”

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