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Kumeyaay Tribes Demand Suspension of Border Wall Construction

August 12, 2020

Over the past several weeks members and allies of the Kumeyaay Nation have peacefully protested the construction of the US-Mexico border wall to protect cultural and religious sites. Multiple protests have taken place both downtown and at the San Diego Hall of Justice and along the border with protestors blocking areas where construction was scheduled to begin.

The different protests have drawn hundreds of supporters and several tribes from the Kumeyaay Nation have been in attendance including Barona, Sycuan, Viejas, La Posta, Manzanita and more.

Jamie LaBrake from the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation explained in addition to protecting these sites, there is a larger issue of the wall creating a division between ancient lands. “We have reservations in Baja and the wall is a wedge. My people on the other side of the wall are Kumeyaay and this wall that is being built separates our Kumeyaay Nation.”

 

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Most recently, six Tribes of the Kumeyaay Nation and an intertribal council of nine Kumeyaay governments submitted a demand letter to Customs and Border Patrol, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calling for a suspension of construction on the U.S.-Mexico border wall until measures are in place to protect culturally-significant resources from construction activities.

Frustrated with multiple federal construction activities along the border that have failed to properly detect and protect Kumeyaay village sites, burials and religious sites, the Manzanita Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, the Campo Kumeyaay Nation, the Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, the Jamul Indian Village and the Kumeyaay Heritage Preservation Council (“KHPC”) demanded the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) temporarily cease all ground disturbing activities until CBP fully evaluates construction impacts on Kumeyaay religious beliefs, practices, and cultural resources. Federal law and CBP guidelines require that CBP meaningfully consult with the Kumeyaay on those impacts, and take appropriate steps to avoid or mitigate such impacts on tribal religious rights.

The Kumeyaay Tribes also object to federal agencies placing unwarranted restrictions on tribal monitors, which impede meaningful oversight of cultural resources. Given the agencies’ impediments, delaying construction is the only viable way to protect the sites.

The multiple construction project sites are located in Kumeyaay aboriginal land that spans the border area and contains sacred sites, ancient village sites and certainly human remains. The Tribes are proposing to work cooperatively with the CBP while construction is temporarily paused to evaluate the impacts, mitigate, and where possible, avoid irreversible adverse impacts.

“We are horrified that the government is moving forward with construction on the border without studying our Kumeyaay sacred sites and other cultural resources and how to protect them,” said Angela Elliott Santos, Chairwoman of the Manzanita Band and Chairwoman of KHPC. “Construction must stop in order to avoid further destruction of Kumeyaay cultural resources and sacred sites while studies are done in consultation with the Kumeyaay Tribes.”

Chairwoman Elliott Santos added, “the Kumeyaay people, our people, have occupied this region, on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, for many thousands of years. Trenching for the new border barriers is destroying an important part of our legacy and likely the precious human remains of our ancestors. Until we can study the area, we will not know the extent of the damage. We remain willing to work with the government in a reasonable time frame to ensure that the Kumeyaay history and religion are not illegally desecrated further by the border wall construction projects.”

Each Kumeyaay Tribe is a federally-recognized tribe with ancestral and reservation lands in Southern California. The Kumeyaay Heritage Preservation Council represents nine federally-recognized tribes of the Kumeyaay Nation and is charged with protecting Kumeyaay spirituality, cultural resources, and heritage within the aboriginal territory of the Kumeyaay people.

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