Indigenous Peoples separated by the Border Stand United Against the Trump Border Wall
Por Isaín Mandujano May 30,2017
TUXTLA GUTIÉRREZ, Chiapas, Mexico
Shannon Rivers and Rafael Alfonso Garcia did not know each other until last weekend, when they met face to face in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. There, attending the Congreso Nacional Indígena of Mexico, they both crossed paths, shared their words and shook hands as brothers of the O’odham Nations.
Both now speak a second foreign language other than their own O’odham native tongue: Rivers, English and Alfonso, Spanish but both belong to the same indigenous peoples divided by a Mexican-American border established 1853, as consequence of the Gadsden Purchase (La Venta de La Mesilla), a treaty made five years after the Treaty Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1848), which ended the US war against Mexico and set the international border between the two countries.
The two belong to the O’otham Nations, as it is written on the other side of the Rio Grande; Tojono O'otam, as it is pronounced on the Mexican side. They are also part of the 82,000 remaining Indigenous Peoples of this population, of whom about 42,000 reside in Mexico and about 40,000 in the United States. Their homelands in the desert territory of Sonora and Arizona, are divided by about 120 kilometers of international border which was imposed on the O’odham Nations after the War on Mexico in 1848. Both Rivers and Garcia state in unity that the O’odham were never consulted regarding the establishment of the border.
In an interview with Apro, both men point out that they traveled to Chiapas to raise awareness of their fight as O’odham Nations before the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), its Indigenous Council of Government (CIG) and its spokeswoman María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, better known as Marichuy.
Although they arrived separately in Chiapas, now that they met they have united their voices and claims to be heard, if possible, before the international courts, as theirs is a case of an indigenous nation whose territory was divided by an international border of the states that they as Indigenous Peoples never agreed to nor were they consulted in the decision between the two governments.
Further to this violation of Indigenous territory, should the construction of a "border wall" as proposed by Donald Trump be realized, this would be a double grievance for the indigenous peoples of the region, who even now with great difficulty maintain relationships of commercial exchange, family ties, indigenous ways of knowing, customs and traditions that have endured from ancestral times.
Shannon Rivers explains that the Tohono O’odham Nation has adopted a resolution addressed to the Trump government making it known that the border wall would be violation of human rights and indigenous rights for thousands of O’otham people.
Likewise, Rafael Alfonso Garcia said that he and the O’odham in Sonora have raised their voices on the Mexican side to ask that both governments not allow further offenses to the original peoples.
Shannon River warns that long before there was a USA, before Mexicans or Americans, the O’odham Nations are constituency of an indigenous peoples originating from this continent in time immemorial. They were not discovered by anyone, they were already there, and neither were they conquered because they still survive even after more than 500 years of colonization in their delimited territories.
They also argue that International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169 states that when the territories of indigenous peoples are bisected by international borders, the Indigenous Peoples are to be allowed free transit between the two countries, and that building the border wall as Trump proposes would further violate these fundamental rights as Indigenous Peoples.
"If necessary, we will go to international tribunals to prevent the border wall from being constructed, since the already false border imposed on us has violated the integrity of our Indigenous Peoples as O'otam Nations," says Rafael Alfonso.
Shannon Rivers and Rafael Alfonso Garcia played an important role in the context of the Constitutive Assembly of the Indigenous Council of Government (CIG) realized from May 26-28, 2017 in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.
The former was responsible for leading a traditional ceremony of spiritual exchange during the closing plenary by way of an eagle feather, given to Marichuy, the spokesperson and now independent candidate of the indigenous peoples to the Presidency of Mexico in 2018.
"When we heard that this event was about to happen, we decided to accept the invitation by the Congreso Nacional Indigena to come and be here as witnesses and observers. Coming from the other side of the US-Mexico border, we let it be known that we are not Americans, we did ask for that imposed border, long before that we are the Original Nations of Indigenous Peoples of the territory and the continent and as such we are here in solidarity and support for Marichuy, " underlined Shannon Rivers.
Rafael Alfonso was elected as a member of the Concejo Indigena de Gobierno (CIG) Council of Indigenous Government of Mexico along with 50 other people, men and women of different indigenous peoples of Mexico. He, who traveled from Sonora to Chiapas, forms an active part of that geopolitical entity created by the Congreso Nacional Indigena and the EZLN on May 28, 2017 here in Chiapas.