Border Wall endangers Indigenous Peoples ceremonies and cultures

Yaqui ceremonial leader Jose Matus describes the crisis at the US/Mexico border, where the border wall and increased restrictions are violating cultures present since time immemorial

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

SOUTH FORK, Nevada -- Jose Matus, Yaqui ceremonial leader and director Indigenous Alliance Without Borders/Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras, said increased border restrictions are interfering with the Yaquis ability to preserve their culture and ceremonies.
Matus, speaking at the Indigenous Environmental Network’s Protecting Mother Earth Conference on Western Shoshone lands, said Yaqui in the United States are faced with the loss of their language, Hiaki, which is affecting the Yaquis ability to maintain their ceremonies.
Matus said one of the ways Yaqui maintain their ceremonies is by bringing in Yaqui from Mexico who are well versed in the Yaqui language, knowledge and ceremonies.
Following the request of Yaqui elders in 1973, Matus began his 35-year effort to maintain the Yaqui ceremonies in the US by bringing in Yaqui ceremonial leaders from Sonora, Mexico, for temporary stays for ceremonies.
However, in recent years, the increased restrictions by Homeland Security and racist attitudes and migrant xenophobia in the US has resulted in increased legal obstacles.
“Now, Homeland Security is getting very, very strict,” Matus told the gathering of more than 700 people from the Americas on Western Shoshone land at South Fork, Nevada, July 17 -- 20, 2008.
Matus said he has been able to work with border officials to get ceremonial leaders across the Southwest borders until now. “As time went goes by, legislation changes and attitudes change, including the anti-immigrant hysteria.”
Matus said the fight against terrorism created more obstacles. “That has created more obstacles. That has affected all the people who have relatives in Mexico.”
The Indigenous Alliance Without Borders is now working Akimel O’otham in Gila River, Arizona, some O’odham in Mexico, Raramuri/Tarahumara in Mexico, the Yaqui Nation in Arizona and other Indigenous Peoples whose rights are being violated by border rules and border wall construction.
The Indigenous Alliance Without Borders was created in 1997 in response to harassment of Indigenous Peoples crossing the border. Border agents were violating and destroying ceremonial items and frightening and intimidating women, children and elders.
“We have tried to set up permanent border crossing rights for the Yaqui, Gila River Pima and Raramuri.” Matus said the alliance recently began working with Tewa from El Paso, Texas, where the border wall construction is now destroying cultural rights.
“The wall itself is a lethal weapon that the US government is using to kill thousands of undocumented crossers.”
Matus said the border wall is destroying the environment, sacred sites and the connection between relatives in Mexico and the US. The border wall is destroying burial places and sacred places.
“Now they are destroying and dividing the Tewa and Kumeyaay ceremonial grounds,” he said of the Tewa in the region of El Paso, Texas, and Kumeyaay, in California and Baja, Mexico.
Matus said the alliance is examining possible legislation to ensure border crossing rights. However, he said Indian Nation governments need to support border crossing rights for legislation to pass in the United States. At the same time, the United States government is intimidating tribes to prevent them from exercising their rights at the border.
“We are all terrorists as far as they are concerned. They put us through all these obstacles as we try to cross that border," Matus said.
While Indigenous Peoples are attempting to maintain their culture and ceremonies, they are unjustly targeted.
“For national security reasons, we can not bring our elders across the border for ceremonies,” Matus said.
(Photo Jose Matus on Tohono O'odham land at San Xavier. Photo by Brenda Norrell.)


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