Trump Faces Backlash for Indigenous Burial Sites Allegedly Being Demolished for Border Wall

Democratic lawmakers have accused the Trump administration of blowing up indigenous burial sites at Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument for the sake of President Donald Trump's border wall.

Last week, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency confirmed to Newsweek that a construction contractor had begun "controlled blasting" in preparation for a new border wall system construction within the Roosevelt Reservation at Monument Mountain in the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson Sector.

"The controlled blasting is targeted and will continue intermittently for the rest of the month," a CBP spokesperson said, adding that the agency would have an environmental monitor present throughout the blasting.

While CBP may have consulted an environmental monitor before undertaking the initiative, community members and lawmakers said there has been zero consultation with the Tohono O'odham Nation, which has lived in the region "since time immemorial," according to the tribe's chairman, Ned Norris Jr.

And with the Trump administration determined to see 450 miles of the border wall built before the end of 2020, lawmakers say CBP has allowed sacred indigenous burial grounds to be destroyed in the process.

"Remember when Trump threatened to blow up Iranian cultural sites?" Congressman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who chairs House Committee on Natural Resources and whose district includes the Tohono O'odham Nation reservation, questioned in a tweet. "Looks like he set his sights on something closer to home."

"To build his racist wall, he's blowing up sacred Native American burial grounds without notifying local tribes. This is wrong," he said.

California Sen. Kamala Harris, who recently dropped out of the 2020 Democratic presidential race, also called attention to the Trump administration's destruction, asserting that "everyone in America should be paying attention to this."

"The ancestries of our Native American communities are being torn apart by this administration, all for a pointless border wall. This is an outrage," she said.

Newsweek has contacted CBP for further comment on the alleged destruction of sacred burial sites.

Newsweek has also contacted Norris, the chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, for comment on the situation.

Indigenous groups and environmental advocates have also expressed outrage over the Trump administration's destruction of wildlife in Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, with the government knocking down Saguaro cacti, considered sacred to members of the Tohono O'odham Nation, while clearing a pathway for border wall construction.

In a statement posted to Twitter, California Rep. Barbara Lee appeared to hit out at Trump for hypocrisy, accusing the president of "destroying 200-year-old cactuses, chopping them up like firewood. Yet, he touts his Trillion Trees Initiative."

"Unacceptable," Lee said.

Trump border wall
Cacti stand on the Mexico side of the border fence at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near Lukeville, Arizona, on February 16, 2017, on the US/Mexico border. The Trump administration has been accused of destroying indigenous burial sites in the bid to see the US.-Mexico border wall built. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty

Speaking to Newsweek last year, Kevin Dahl, the Arizona senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association who captured viral video of a Saguaro cactus being mowed down, said he was "heartbroken and outraged" after witnessing the incident. "At that point, what they were doing was destruction, not construction," he said.

Since revealing plans to move ahead with border wall construction in Arizona, the Trump administration has received repeated warnings from indigenous groups, environmental groups and archaeologists that it is putting wildlife and sacred land containing at least 16,000 years of history at risk.

Despite those warnings, the government has pushed ahead with plans to see the border wall built, with the Trump administration's self-imposed deadline to see 450 miles built before the end of 2020 looming.

So far, CBP has seen just over 100 miles constructed, with around 350 miles still to go. It is unclear whether the agency will be able to meet the government's goal. However, it would likely be seen as a major failure if the president was not able to deliver on what has become one of his biggest promises in the lead-up to the 2020 election.