July 10, 2008

Washington DC Press Conference:
O'odham Voice Against the Wall, O'odham
RightsCultural and Environmental Justice
Coalition, The People’s Walk, & Earthpeoples

On July 10, 2008, Traditional O'odham representatives and their supporters held a
press conference in Washington DC to discuss the violations of human rights and
the environmental destruction occuring in the border zone as a result of the
building of the border wall between the US and Mexico.

July 10, 2008

10:00 AM – 12 Noon

Washington, DC 20003



The Traditional Tohono O'odham Indigenous People Demand a Halt to the Construction of the US-Mexico
Border Wall and the Destruction of Indigenous Nations.

The Tohono O'odham Nation has the second largest reservation recognized by the United States, with territory
and members on both sides of the US-Mexico political boundary in the states of Arizona, US and Sonora,
Mexico. As original people of the territory, the Tohono O'odham have lived on and cared for that land long
before such a boundary even existed; before there was a US or a Mexico. Now, however, the construction of
the border wall along the entire US – Mexican border is splitting border communities and Indigenous nations
alike, including the Tohono O'odham.

The construction of this wall will destroy the Tohono O'odham way of life (their traditions and religious
practices), not to mention the many rights sworn to the O'odham people that are being violated. Tohono
O'odham elders and traditionalists maintain their legacy through oral history, conducting natural ceremonies
that include offerings to the land and sea. They also use many plants and environmental resources of the
region as a source of food and medicine. But, many of these sacred ceremonies take place in Mexico.

"This Wall and the construction of this Wall has destroyed our communities, our burial sites, and ancient
O'odham routes throughout our lands. The entire International border has divided and displaced our people,"
says Ofelia Rivas, a representative of the traditional Tohono O'odham in Washington D.C. “The Wall is also
severely affecting the animals. We now see mountain lions going into areas where people live because of the

The right of the O'odham to travel freely and safely via these traditional routes in their territory has previously
been guaranteed under United States, Mexican, and International Law. The US government's American Indian
Religious Freedom Act of 1978 acknowledges rights for the O'odham people that the construction of the US-
Mexico Border Wall directly violates. By restricting the mobility of the O'odham people, the Wall prevents the
free practice of their religion and their cultural traditions. Further, rights granted by the United Nations Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration of Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples, and the American
Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man are also being ignored due to a waiver issued by the US
Department of Homeland Security. Under this document, the President claims the power to waive any and all
environmental and Federal Indian laws in order to build the Wall in the name of national security.

The US-Mexican border policies and the Wall have also increased the military presence within the O'odham
lands, further affecting their lives and communities. "This Wall has militarized our entire lands," states Ofelia
Rivas, "We, as original people, are now required to answer to United States armed forces as to our nationality
on our own lands."

Ofelia Rivas, herself, was once asked, at gunpoint, to produce identification to establish her right to be on lands
that she was born on and her ancestors lived on since before Columbus. Ironically, the increase in militarization
of the US-Mexican Border has coincided with the rise of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
that went into effect in 1994. Supporters at the time said NAFTA would decrease immigration and bring good
paying jobs to Mexico but the exact opposite has happened. “Many of the people crossing from Mexico into the
United States are indigenous people and families,” says Ofelia Rivas. “They tell me that under these free trade
agreements they can no longer farm and make a living.” Under NAFTA it has become easier for commercial
goods to cross the border than people, especially the Tohono O'odham. This is illustrated by a striking example
told by Mrs. Rivas:

"An O'odham elder and her daughter were interrogated and watched by United States Border Patrol guards as
they collected traditional O'odham food in the desert."

Ofelia Rivas is in Washington, D.C. today with members of many different Indigenous nations and allies who
have walked from San Francisco, California across the continent to Washington, D.C. This group calls their
march “The People’s Walk” not only for the sovereignty of Indigenous nations but also for the protection of
sacred sites, plants, and animals. Thus, ordinary O'odham people and elders and their allies are issuing a call
to action against the construction of the US-Mexico Border Wall. "As original peoples of these lands,” says
Ofelia Rivas, “we protest the violation of the thirty seven federal laws by the April 1, 2008 Waiver by Secretary

For More Information Contact:

O'odham VOICE Against the Wall and O'odham Rights Cultural and Environmental

Justice Coalition: Ofelia Rivas (520) 471-3398, uyarivas@hotmail.com,

O'odham Solidarity Project (www.solidarity-project.org)

The People’s Walk: peoplejune13@yahoo.com

Earthpeoples: Rebecca Sommer: (718) 302-1949, www.earthpeoples.org

For primary information about some of the issues discussed in the press release please see the

1.  Tohono O’odham Chairman’s statement:  On April 28th, 2008 Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. gave
testimony to the Subcommittee on Fisheries Wildlife and Oceans and Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public
Lands of the House Committee on Natural Resources at their Oversight Hearing “Walls and Waivers: Expedited Construction of
the Southern Border Wall and Collateral Impacts to Communities and the Environment.” For the full statement see:
For additional information on this issue see: http://www.tiamatpublications.com/O_S_P_Norris_Tesitmony_5_08.html

2.  Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative:  On Jan. 31, 2008 the Department of Homeland Security implemented the new border
crossing rules which now require O’odham to have identification to travel within their traditional lands when crossing the
US/Mexico international boundary.  For information about the initiative see:

3.  American Indian Religious Freedom Act:  The Act mandates the government of the United States “to protect and preserve for
American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions...including but not
limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and
traditional rites. For the full text of the Act see:

4.  United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:  Article 11 of the declaration clearly states that: “Indigenous
peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect
and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artifacts,
designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.”   
For the full document see:

5.  Department of Homeland Security waivers:  On April 1st, 2008 Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff
publicly announced that the Department of Homeland Security would waive a number of environmental and cultural protection
laws in order to expedite the building of the border wall along the US / Mexico border.  For the DHS press release see:  
For the legal text of the waivers see:  

6.  Sierra Club & Defenders of Wildlife Challenge DHS:  For more information about the environmental impacts of the border wall
and the challenges to the DHS waivers see: