Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

March 31, 2012

Exclusive photos: O'odham arrest and abuse at the border

On December 27, 2004, Ofelia Rivas, O'odham, was handcuffed, abused and told to "cooperate" when taken into custody on Tohono O'odham land, by the Tohono O'odham police working in conjunction with the US Border Patrol. The first photo of the armed border patrol clearly on Rivas' property. In the second photo, after she was arrested and in the patrol car, the border patrol is shown blocking the entrance. The third is proof of the injuries Rivas sustained as documented by UMC emergency.

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

This week Amnesty International released a new report on human rights abuses of migrants and Indigenous Peoples at the US Mexico border. After this release, Indian Country Today attempted to profiteer from an article on this report and the abuse.
However, censorship by ICT is itself responsible for the ongoing abuses by the US Border Patrol, Tohono O'odham Police and Homeland Security.
ICT is a partner in these crimes.
In December of 2004, Ofelia Rivas, O'odham was handcuffed, abused and threatened by Tohono O'odham police working in conjunction with the US Border Patrol and Homeland Security forces.
Indian Country Today censored and refused to report the abuse at the time. It was one of many articles that were censored by Indian Country Today from the border while I was a staff reporter there. The newspaper catered to the elected Tohono O'odham government which has been coopted by the US Border Patrol and Homeland Security.
When ICT refused to print an account of the abuse, the article was published by the UN OBSERVER and International Report in Jan. of 2005. Rivas is founder of O'odham VOICE against the Wall and both the Tohono O'odham elected government and ICT attempted to silence her. She spoke out against the border wall that violates the O'odham ceremonial path and exposed Boeing when it dug up the graves of O'odham ancestors on O'odham land at the border. She repeatedly documented the acts of violence against O'odham by tribal police and US Border Patrol agents.
After censoring the abuse, now Indian Country Today attempts to appear as a champion of human rights. It is violation of the ethics of journalism and a violation of human decency.

Press statement

The O’odham VOICE Against the WALL
Human Rights Abuse on the Tohono O’odham Nation
December 2004

This statement is to provide a personal experience documenting the brutality and harassment by the U.S. Government on O’odham (people), and other indigenous groups along the US/Mexican Border under the auspices of Homeland Security.

The U.S. government “operation safeguard”,’ is a deliberate redirection of illegal border crossers unto O’odham territory increasing human right abuses and deaths. The over 300 illegal immigrate deaths of on O’odham territory profoundly impacts all O’odham dignity and way of life.

Throughout my lifetime, I have been working closely with my traditional elders. I grew up listening to the traditional Elders; therefore, have a responsibility to protect our traditional way of life. To advocate the traditional Elder leadership voice, we have established an organization, “The O’odham VOICE Against the WALL”.

The organization, have been able to provide the elders and youth with information on the developments along the US/Mexican Border. Furthermore, making the people aware of their rights. These rights are guaranteed in by-laws adopted by the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Provisions and Laws in United States Government and International Human Rights.

Recently, the Tohono O’odham Nation collaborated with the United States Department of Homeland Security in support of the re-enforcement of the 74-mile border. This further impacts the lives of O’odham and our traditional lands. This action was made without full disclosure to the traditional O’odham on both sides of the border. The US Environmental Impact Statement pertaining to the permanent sealing of the US/MX border is, a 350+ page document submitted to the Tohono O’odham Nation. This document was not available to traditional O’odham. Many do not understand the irreparable impacts this will create. The proposed border wall for national security will sever families and the continuation of traditional ceremonies on both sides of this boundary. The protection of our desert environment and sacred sites along this boundary remains insignificant in this decision.

This agreement made it necessary to seek public awareness and support to maintain our traditional way of life. We have received support from various indigenous organizations and International Human Rights groups, as well as the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations.

The Tohono O’odham Nation and the US Government is aware of my activities and have increased vigilance in monitoring. The following is a documentation of Human Rights abuses on the Tohono O’odham Nation by the Tohono O’odham Nations Police and Border Agencies. These incidents against the O’odham have been escalating.

Historically, the O’odham territory came under occupation and the establishment of the border in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Treaty of Le Mesilla (Gadsden Purchase) in 1853. O’odham have continued to maintain the traditional routes and communities on both sides of this border despite impacts of hostile enforcement of border policies and inhumane immigration laws.

We don’t want our elders, our mothers, our fathers and all our relatives to experience this inhumane treatment;

Monday, December 27, 2004 at 3:00 P.M.

I am a O’odham mother and grandmother.

A Tohono O'odham Nation non-O'odham police officer attacked me at my mother’s village, Ali Jegk, Gu-Vo District, Tohono O’odham Nation.

This officer brutally threw me against the car and handcuffed me and arrested me. He injured my wrist, arm and shoulder. I have severe Rheumatoid Arthritis and unable to lift my arms over my head as well as severe disfigurement on my hands.

I asked what he was arresting me for, he said that I failed to stop and show I.D.

He officially arrested me, read my rights, charging me with five charges;

q 1-Interfered with the work of the border patrol because I was taking pictures,

q 2-failure to stop,

q 3-failure to show I.D., and

q 4 and 5- 2 counts of aggressive behavior threatening an officer.

He threatened to charge me with an additional charge of, threatening a police officer, if I didn’t voluntarily climb into the Tohono O’odham Nation Police Jeep.

He held me under arrest in his vehicle for 45 minutes. While a second police officer called that he was arriving I was un-handcuffed and repeatedly asked to get out of the jeep. When the second TON police officer arrived he was told that it was “just a little misunderstanding” and there is no problem. He dismissed his question of, “what happen to your wrist”. I was then completely ignored, as if I was not there and that nothing happened, while the two policemen carried on a conversation about not having enough gasoline for the return to headquarters.

This police called me by name as he attacked and arrested me. He clearly knew who I was before he tailgated me on the community road then stopped me in my mother’s yard. He was on the telephone talking, while two border patrol vehicles blocked the yard entrance but did not approach or face to witness this action. The intimidation tactics directed at me while under arrest was clear that he used whatever force necessary to hold me without cause to intimidate and threaten, to scare me. I was released without a single document, a traffic citation or a report to prove that this happened.

My friend and her two children (ages 6 and 8) witnessed the whole brutality.

This action is deliberate and makes a clear statement to the entire community, already afraid to report abuses. The Tohono O’odham Nation’s police force is an armed arm of the Homeland Security agents. This can happen to anyone that in anyway questions or document the inhumane actions of the border patrols and the tribal police and any of it's other agents. I have documented this abuse at the Derechos Humanos Office in Tucson.

Ofelia Rivas, The O’odham VOICE Against the WALL
Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter for 30 years, covering Indian country. She was a reporter for Navajo Times, and stringer for AP and USA Today, during the 18 years she lived on the Navajo Nation. After serving as a longtime staff reporter for Indian Country Today, she was censored, then terminated in 2006 after ICT editors demanded that she halt writing about "grassroots Indian people and the genocide of American Indians." She created Censored News as a result.

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